HC Deb 08 March 1979 vol 963 cc1485-500
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President of the Council 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 12 MARCH—Second Reading of the Local Government Grants (Ethnic Groups) Bill and of the Local Government Finance Bill.

TUESDAY 13 MARCH—Supply [11th allotted day]: debate on the operation of the courts in Scotland, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Proceedings on the following Lords consolidation measures:

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

WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH—Remaining stages of the Industry Bill.

Motions on the European Assembly elections regulations.

THURSDAY 15 MARCH—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

FRIDAY 16 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 19 MARCH—Second Reading of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

Why has the Leader of the House not yet arranged a debate on the public expenditure White Paper? He is aware that it has been published for nearly two months and that the report from the Select Committee is now available. It is time the House had an opportunity to give its views on a matter central to the Budget, which will be coming soon. When will he arrange that debate?

Mr. Foot

The point raised by the right hon. Lady is a reasonable one, although I am sure that she takes into account, as I do and I think the House will, that the report of the Expenditure Committee came out last night and there has not been very long for the matter to be considered. I fully take into account what the right hon. Lady says. I hope to be able to make a statement about it next week.

Mr. Abse

Will the Leader of the House say when, at long last, the Northern Ireland homosexual offences draft order is to be laid before the House? Will he explain how a matter affecting men whose unfortunate and difficult destiny is to be homosexual should become the victim of squalid inter-party discussion? Will he remind the Unionist Party that in a unitary State it is essential that a man who has full civil freedom in Birmingham, Liverpool and London should not be treated as a criminal in Belfast?

Mr. Foot

This is not a matter that is subject to inter-party discussion in the formal manner suggested by my hon. Friend. He, as the principal author of the Bill that went through this House dealing with England, knows that it was Private Member's legislation. That is the normal method of dealing with this kind of legislation. That is not the only factor that is involved, but I cannot tell my hon. Friend exactly when we shall proceed further.

Mr. Beith

Would it not be for the general convenience of the House if the right hon. Gentleman told us which item of private business the Chairman of Ways and Means has named for consideration on Tuesday and made it his practice to do so generally?

Mr. Foot

There is a possibility of seeing whether that could be done as a normal method, but some considerations would have to be taken into account before that decision could be made.

Mr. George Cunningham

Does the Leader of the House remember saying, at the end of the recent two-day debate on procedure under pressure from all parts of the House, that there would be an opportunity of a further day on which a decision in principle could be taken on some of the specific recommendations of the report on procedure? Would he indicate when that further day might be given?

Mr. Foot

I stand by what I said at the end of that debate, namely, that we should have discussions on the matter. I said that I was prepared to have those discussions through the usual channels and through some of the unusual channels. I think that that undertaking was generally accepted by the House, and we are proceeding on that basis.

Mr. Amery

At the time of the last business questions before the short recess for devolution, the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to say that the Government would consider either a debate or a statement on the question of sending observers to monitor the Rhodesian elections. What progress has been made? Can we hope for a statement in the coming week?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing further to say on that subject. A considerable amount of time is available before the event might take place.

Mrs. Bain

I wish to pursue the question of the orders for the repeal of the Scotland and Wales Acts. If the Leader of the House is not prepared to be firmer than the Prime Minister on the timetable, will he at least indicate what will be his advice to his own party? Will there be a vote of confidence on this issue, thereby reflecting the election manifesto commitment, or are we to see a continuing lack of commitment from the Labour Party, whose own inactivity contributed to the low majority?

Mr. Foot

I cannot accept the comments made by the hon. Lady in the latter part of her intervention. I thought that the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a few minutes ago on this subject commanded universal satisfaction throughout the House.

Mr. Stoddart

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the bringing forward of the seat belts legislation will be widely welcomed, particularly by motoring organisations and the medical profession? The legislation will save over 1,000 lives and many tens of thousands of serious injuries every year. Will the Government do everything possible to see that the Bill gets a fair wind through the House and reaches the statute book?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend knows as well as any hon. Member how these matters proceed through the House. He knows that this is a controversial measure. The Government are carrying out the obligations and undertakings that we previously made on the subject.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does the Lord President agree that it is just as important for the House to have an opportunity to vote upon the devolution orders as it is for those orders to be laid? Will he give a guarantee this afternoon that, as soon as the orders are laid, we shall have an opportunity to vote on them, or will he be a deputy violet and shrink from that as well?

Mr. Foot

I do not know from where the hon. Gentleman gets his violet ideas. It must be from the tie that he is wearing. There is certainly nothing retiring in my attitude to this matter. As I said before, I think that the Prime Minister has dealt with this question, and I advise the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the House to await the further statement on the subject that the Government will obviously make.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend recall that it is now some weeks since he advised me that it would be necessary for the Cabinet to think very seriously about the rejection by the House of Lords of the further inquiry into Bingham? What consideration has been given to this? Can he tell us quite specifically that, as soon as possible, he will lay a resolution empowering this House to set up the commission of inquiry that is now urgently needed?

Mr. Foot

I recall very well the exchanges on this subject that I had with my hon. Friend at the conclusion of that debate. What he prophesied, or at any rate feared, has come to pass, namely, that another place did not accept the motion in the terms that were accepted by the House. That poses important questions for the House, and I believe that the matter will have to be brought back for it to decide, because it is this House of Commons that should have the final word on such questions. However, we are having discussions to see how best we can proceed in that direction.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

On the question of observers at the Rhodesian elections, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of sending them as representatives not of the Government but of Parliament? Will he look up the precedent of Mr. Herbert Morrison in December 1945, when observers from Parliament—not from the Government—were sent to the Indian sub-continent?

Mr. Foot

I think that the situation in the Indian sub-continent in 1946–47 was very different from the situation in Rhodesia at the present time. One of the differences was that the Indian Government at that time were not in rebellion against this House of Commons and its authority. But, as I said in response to the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), there is some time yet before we have to decide the matter.

Miss Richardson

Can my right hon. Friend tell us when we are likely to have a debate on the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act order? Will he confirm that we shall have a debate on the Shackleton report at the same time, and give an undertaking that it will be a longer debate?

Mr. Foot

I cannot now give my hon. Friend the answer for which she asks, but I shall certainly examine the matter and see whether I can communicate with her and with other hon. Members who are interested, in order to give some indication within the next few days on both the matters that have been raised.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

When will the Lord President find time for a debate on early-day motions Nos. 4 and 295, which relate to hospital closures in Camden?

[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.]

[That this House bitterly resents the actions of the Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster Area Health Authority in deciding to close the long established St. Columba's Hospital for six months in such a way as to evade any process of consultation; calls upon the Secretary of State to prevent this decision being implemented and to instruct the Area Health Authority to go through consultation even though their closure proposals are alleged to be temporary; and further believes that it is only because the Area Health Authority is heartless and afraid of public consultation that they have used such a back-door method which will cause great anguish to those patients and their relatives who have enjoyed the loving care and attention given to them at St. Columba's.]

May I advise him that, if he does not find time, Government business may well start being blocked, since the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) showed that such action at least forces the Government to take a decision?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that any hon. Gentleman should talk about blocking Government business, or House of Commons business, on that account. The hon. Gentleman should consider his words afresh in that respect. But there are other ways in which he and others can raise this matter, either by representations to Ministers or in the House itself.

Mr. Pavitt

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion No. 300, about a better way of wage negotiations for nurses?

[That this House records its appreciation of the decision of nurses not to strike in pursuance of their justified pay claim; notes that in considering their own interests and that of their patients they have reaffirmed their devotion to their patients; and now urges Her Majesty's Government to seize this opportunity to demonstrate that responsible negotiation can secure results as good as those secured after strike action in other sectors of public service.]

Has he noticed that there are a number of other motions from all parts of the House indicating that there is widespread support for this motion? In view of that, in view of the fact that this may well have been discussed in the Cabinet this morning, and since the Whitley Council meets tomorrow, will he ensure that there is an early statement next week? In addition, will he ensure that there is a possibility of this House being able to discuss whatever arises from these matters?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure whether a debate on this matter in the next few days or weeks is the best way of proceeding, but I take note of the early-day motion, which is an important one. I hope that my hon. Friend and the House will also take note of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on this subject a few minutes ago.

Mr. Lawrence

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall telling the House that he hoped that early-day motion No. 223, in respect of the Honourable Sir Desmond Ackner, would be 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.] Has it been withdrawn? If not, how long will that early-day motion remain on the Order Paper before we are given the opportunity to negative it?

Mr. Foot

I still think that the best way of dealing with it is the way that I initially suggested. I still hope that hon. Members will deal with it in that way, but I cannot promise an early debate.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Some time ago, my right hon. Friend promised to give further consideration to early-day motion No. 187 on violence on television, which has now been signed by 132 hon. Members from both sides 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.]

Is he aware that the Home Secretary has stated that violence on television affects the actions of young people? Is it not about time that we had a debate, so that proposals can be made for future action on this very urgent problem?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an early debate on the subject, although I hope that my hon. Friend will again consider the reply that I gave on an earlier occasion. Of course, this is a fitting subject for private Members' debate, and there are plenty of such opportunities.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Bearing in mind that for the first time in its 200-year history the general hospital in Birmingham is faced with total closure today because of industrial action, will the Lord President guarantee that next week the Secretary of State will make a statement on the callous action of the trade unions involved, particularly if, by that time, lives are at risk?

Mr. Foot

I do not accept all the language that was used by the hon. Gentleman, but I shall see whether a statement should be made on that and kindred subjects next week. I am not making a promise; I am merely saying that I shall consider it.

Mr. Mellish

Will my right hon. Friend find time—not next week, of course—to debate the report of the Royal Commission on gambling? This report took a long time to prepare, and has now been published for many months. It is imperative that we have a debate on a motion to take note in order to learn the views not only of the Government but of the Opposition. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to have discussions through the usual channels? I am sure that he will find that the Opposition would also welcome a debate on this important subject.

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend has a strong claim for the debate for which he is asking. In the light of what he said, I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Since the matter of Namibia has for some months now been considered of such significance that five senior Foreign Ministers of the West have, in one way or another, been dancing attendance on Pretoria, and since serious allegations have been made in a speech by the South African Prime Minister within the last two days affecting the honour and integrity of the position of the West, is it not of the utmost importance that this matter should be debated in the very near future?

Mr. Foot

Of course, that is a matter of the greatest importance. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman's question does not mean that he accepts automatically a statement made by a South African Minister.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is the Leader of the House aware that some months ago the Government wrongly announced that they were going to pay the same salaries to the so-called European parliamentarians as are paid to Members of this House? There was no statutory authority to do that. However, only yesterday the Minister concerned said that he hoped to obtain statuory authority for this. Will the Lord President say when we shall obtain statutory authority to enable the Government to carry out the promise and the pledge which they wrongly made weeks and months ago?

Mr. Foot

As to action on the principle of the matter, the Government were responding to representations that had been made in the House. However, I cannot be sure when we shall have an opportunity of further discussing the matter. Certainly it would need consideration in the House before being put into operation.

Mr. Cormack

Will the Leader of the House say when we shall have a debate on the White Paper dealing with the national heritage fund?

Mr. Foot

It is not a question of a debate on the White Paper. Those interested in the subject are even more eager to see the Bill brought forward. Certainly I am eager to see it brought forward. As we are pressing ahead with it as satisfactorily as we can, I hope that we shall be able to have a debate on the Bill rather than the White Paper.

Mr. Loyden

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern felt in the shipbuilding and ship repair industries, by Members of Parliament representing those constituencies and by workers working in the industry about the corporate plan? Will he make an early arrangement to have the corporate plan discussed on the Floor of the House so that some of those concerns that have been expressed may be removed?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend and others have asked me for a debate on this subject. We are still awaiting the consideration by the Government on different aspects of the matter. However, I shall see whether there is a possibility of a fairly early debate. I cannot promise it for next week or the week after. I shall consider when we may discuss the matter.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will the Lord President arrange for the Prime Minister to make a statement next week to clarify the following matter? On Tuesday the Prime Minister told the House that he held the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales responsible for any continuing expenditure on providing Assembly buildings and fittings, yet those two Ministers refused to answer questions tabled to them on that matter.

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly look into the apparent allegation that the hon. Gentleman makes in the latter part of his question. If there is anything in it. I shall see what is the most appropriate way of solving the matter. However, it does not seem to be a great problem.

Mr. Madden

Is the Lord President concerned that discussions initiated by the Secretary of State for Employment seem to have reached a position that will enable the management of Times Newspapers Ltd. to resume the publication of its newspapers? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State to make a statement on this matter tomorrow, in view of the great importance of, and previous debates on, the matter?

Mr. Foot

Not necessarily a statement tomorrow. Let us hope that the agreement is able to go forward. The House will wish to pay a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. If The Times and the other newspapers reappear—and if the workers obtain or retain their jobs—the highest credit will be due to him. We think that we must leave it to him to choose the best time to make a statement to the House.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the Lord President arrange for a statement to be made next week on the memorandum from the Treasury by Sir Douglas Wass—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) would be quiet rather than mouthing abuse in his normal fashion, it would be helpful to our proceedings.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has a right to be heard in the same silence as that in which others are heard.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the Lord President arrange for a debate next week on the Treasury memorandum by Sir Douglas Wass on certain major items of Government expenditure? Is the Lord President aware that unless Sir Douglas made up the figures that are contained in his memorandum, Industry Ministers have misled the House by giving completely wrong accounts of the commercial viability of various projects for which they have asked for taxpayers' money.

Mr. Foot

I repudiate any suggestion that Ministers have misled the House on this matter. The rumour is that the hon. Gentleman has recovered his position of influence with the leaders of his party. If that were so, this matter would be an eminently good subject for a Supply debate. [Interruption.] In spite of the raucous cries from the Opposition, they have not selected the subject for debate. We should be happy to debate it.

Mr. Hooley

Has my right hon. Friend had time to consider the constitutional propriety of an Order in Council which purports to authorise expenditure of £3¼ million to the European Coal and Steel Community? Under our procedure that order must be considered by this House and the House of Lords, although the House of Lords has no standing in financial matters. Will he delay laying the order until the constitutional question has been cleared up?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend is on a serious matter. We must be careful about these matters. I should have thought that this question had been covered. However, I shall certainly look at what the hon. Gentleman said.

Sir Ian Gilmour

Will the Leader of the House say when we shall debate the defence White Paper?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give a date. However, an opportunity to debate the White Paper will be found in the fairly near future. There are a number of other competing topics for debate, as the right hon. Gentleman will have heard in the past quarter of an hour. However, we shall debate the matter fairly soon.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that several weeks ago he made a promise to me and to the House to consider the possibility of a debate on the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act report? That is an important subject. Will he give an indication that it will be in his thoughts?

Secondly, does my right hon. Friend feel that we should have a debate some time in the near future on the role that multinational companies play in our economy? For example, a gigantic firm such as Thorn, which is highly profitable, may close down a factory in Bradford yet receive Government grant aid for development in London and Gosport. Surely the arbitrary actions by these multinationals in sacking people without any regard for the national interest should be debated in the House.

Mr. Foot

Those are two good subjects for debate. Many more than two could be pressed upon me. However, I shall certainly take account of what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Gow

In view of the dilemma of the Lord President and the Government about laying the draft order to repeal the Scotland Act, will the Lord President explain what is the Government's dilemma about laying the order to repeal the Wales Act? Surely we could have a debate on that order next week.

Mr. Foot

We could not conveniently have that debate next week in any case. There are a number of items that I have already read out for the business for next week. I think that we should approach it in that way. We are taking into account the different positions in the two countries. There is a difference. However, the Opposition must also take into account the fact that a majority voted in Scotland.

Mr. Spearing

May I refer to the reply that the Lord President gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley)? Is my right hon. Friend aware that this definition of treaties order pays £3 million out of the Consolidated Fund by a statutory instrument that must be approved by the House of Lords? As the Lord President admitted that this raised grave constitutional questions, will he undertake not to lay that order next week, and to let my hon. Friend and the House know his conclusions on this matter before he does so?

Mr. Foot

I shall consider the points made by my hon. Friend. This is a perfectly reasonable approach for me to make. That is what I shall do. After I have considered the matter I shall see what recommendation I should make about how we proceed. I shall not say that before I have considered the matter.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Bearing in mind the Minister's statement of his intention to have a debate on the Royal Commission on gambling, will he say whether we shall have that debate before Easter? More particularly, will he say whether he will make representations to the Home Secretary to have ready and available answers on the future of lotteries and the racecourse authority that is proposed to be set up under the terms of the Royal Commission? Time is short, and these matters should be considered this year and, indeed, before a general election.

Mr. Foot

I gave what I thought was a reasonably forthcoming reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). I did not promise a debate before Easter, and I cannot promise that, in the light of the many other matters being pressed upon me.

Mr. Christopher Price

Will my right hon. Friend repudiate the scurrilous stories in the press today that the Government are actually against the Official Information Bill and are trying to sabotage it by introducing some sort of Green Paper instead? Is he aware that this is a heaven-sent opportunity for the Government to implement a manifesto promise of 1974? In view of this, will he give an assurance that the Government will provide adequate time on Report for this Bill, which was not opposed on Second Reading and has had such a smooth and happy path in Committee?

Mr. Foot

As my hon. Friend knows as well as anybody else, no Government are in the habit of giving undertakings in advance about the time that is to be allotted for Private Members' Bills on Report and other stages. If I were to spend my time repudiating all the scurrilous tales in the newspapers, I should be here all night.

Mr. Rifkind

As Foreign Office Ministers have supported the principle of Parliament deciding whether observers should be sent to Rhodesia, will the Leader of the House give today a specific assurance that this House will have the right to make that decision well before the elections in Rhodesia?

Mr. Foot

I gave that undertaking in the form in which the hon. Gentleman has asked for it. I refer him to the answers that I have already given on the subject to two of his hon. Friends.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a very important debate to follow business questions, and I must be fair, as it is a Supply day. If hon. Members are really brief, I shall call them all. Sir Anthony Meyer.

Sir Anthony Meyer

In view of the fact that 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote in the referendum in Wales voted "No" instead of "Yes", including nine out of 10 of those who voted in the constituency of the Leader of the House, what possible pretext is there now for not laying the order repealing the Wales Act?

Mr. Foot

One of the first considerations to be taken into account by the hon. Gentleman is that it is not possible for anyone to know exactly what were the numbers voting "Yes" and "No" in my constituency. I certainly do not believe that the figures would bear any resemblance to the distorted suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman. He must not leap to these conclusions so speedily. He must have a little coolness in his approach to these matters. I am sure that that is the mood in which the whole House would prefer to approach them.

Mr. Michael Morris

May I remind the Lord President that the Government's own working party on direct labour reported last summer, and that since that date Ministers have stated that there will be a Bill? Is there a Bill that we can expect in the next few weeks?

Mr. Foot

Not next week, anyway.

Mr. Ridley

Will the Lord President provide time next week for progress on the Ghost Workers (Abolition) Bill, which the House gave me leave to introduce, in view of the fact that the Revenue has now decided, with ministerial connivance, not to claim tax due from casual workers in Fleet Street—thereby breaking the tradition that all citizens are treated equally and also causing the old, the low paid and others to have to pay more tax—just because these Fleet Street workers are members of trade unions?

Mr. Foot

I will give due consideration to all the Bills introduced by the hon. Gentleman. I do not suppose that any of them has a chance of reaching the statute book.

Mr. Stanbrook

Will the Lord President reconsider the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) about the early-day motion calling for the dismissal of a High Court judge? Is it not the case that many of the Lord President's hon. Friends want to see the dismissal of that judge because he delivered a judgment with which they do not agree? In fairness to the judge, and in fairness to the judiciary as a whole, should we not therefore debate that motion without any further delay?

Mr. Foot

I understand that there is a case for such a debate, but I understand also the case for asking my hon. Friends to withdraw the motion. I think that that would be the best way of dealing with the matter. I know that the practice has grown that quite often early-day motions are tabled by Members who wish in that way to express opinions. We ought to exercise some care as to the way in which we use the Order Paper. That comment applies to hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Mr. Farr

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to early-day motion No. 237, relating to the increase in fees for certificates for certain arms and ammunition?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Firearms (Variation and Fees) Order 1979 (S.I., 1979, No. 86), dated 30 January 1979, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7 February, be annulled.]

In view of the fact that these increases are due to come into effect very shortly, and that a large number of hon. Members have already signed the motion, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange time for a debate in the House before the increases become due?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give a promise, but I will look at the timetable referred to by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Stokes

If I may return to the subject of devolution, Mr. Speaker, may I ask the Lord President whether he will allow time for a post mortem debate on this vital subject—after the results of the referendums have been disposed of, of course—so that he may explain to the House, in as much detail as possible, how he and the Prime Minister made such an error of judgment on this vital constitutional matter?

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Scottish position in particular, I point out to him that before a post mortem debate can be held the body has to be dead, and that is not the case here.

Mr. Tapsell

As the international situation appears to be more threatening than at any time since the Cuban crisis of 1962, are the Government planning to have a debate on international affairs in their own time?

Mr. Foot

We are not planning to have such a debate in the immediate future. If it were thought at any time, however, that a debate in the House would generally assist the situation, the Government would, of course, be eager to provide it. The Government have been taking action on the whole range of these matters, as the hon. Gentleman may have seen. So far, none of the hon. Gentleman's other hon. Friends has raised any of them.