HC Deb 15 March 1979 vol 964 cc697-706
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 19 MARCH—Debate on a motion to take note of the Government's expenditure plans, 1979–80 to 1982–83, Cmnd 7439.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill.

TUESDAY 20 MARCH—Proceedings on the Administration of Justice (Emergency Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on EEC documents R/2712/78,R/2311/78 and R/2163/78 on the Communities' energy policy.

WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH—Debate on the report of the Shackleton committee, Cmnd 7324.

Motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Continuance) Order.

Motion on the temporary short-time working compensation scheme.

THURSDAY 22 MARCH—Second Reading of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill.

Motion relating to the Firearms (Variation of Fees) Order.

FRIDAY 23 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 26 MARCH—Debate on a motion on the statement of the Defence Estimates, Cmnd 7474, which will be concluded on Tuesday 27 March.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I put three points to the Lord President? First, will he say when the statement to which the Prime Minister has just referred may be expected, or is that still under discussion? Secondly, may we have a statement on the effect of the selective Civil Service strikes? Many hon. Members are receiving complaints from constituents that they are not able to get VAT refunds, that they are not able to get at their savings, and they are not able to get interest payments. It is causing distress in many of our constituencies. May we have a statement on that, as the Prime Minister said that con- tangency plans had been made? Thirdly, when may we have a foreign affairs debate?

Mr. Foot

To take the matters in reverse order, I shall consider the right hon. Lady's request for a debate on foreign affairs. I cannot give a commitment without looking at the other business ahead. Secondly, I shall certainly see whether we can have a statement next week on the selective Civil Service strikes. On the right hon. Lady's first point, although I cannot give a definite day for the statement, it will be one day next week.

Mr. Flannery

There have been many worrying developments in Northern Ireland recently. Will my right hon. Friend consider an early debate to clear our minds on what is happening? There is a great demand for such a debate on the Labour Benches.

Mr. Foot

A statement will be made to the House at the beginning of business tomorrow by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the Bennett report and other matters that have been raised.

Mr. Beith

When will we have a statement on the Bingham report? Is it not intolerable that the decision of the House to inquire into these matters should continue to be obstructed by an unelected House?

Mr. Foot

I quite agree. It is most unfortunate that the unelected House should have taken the step it did to prevent the decision of this House coming into effect. As I said a week ago, I am having discussions with Members in different parts of the House to see how we may bring forward a further motion. I replied last week to a question on that by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), and I am still proceeding with it.

Mr. Hooley

Further to that, it will not have escaped my right hon. Friend's notice that the air force of the illegal regime is committing indiscriminate murder in Angola, Mozambique and Zambia. Will the Government make a statement on our attitude to sanctions that may be necessary against South Africa to prevent the essential flow of oil to Mr. Smith's air force?

Mr. Foot

That is a different issue from the one raised before, but it is none the less extremely important. I shall discuss such a statement with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, but I make no commitment about a statement.

Mr. Michael Latham

Will the Prime Minister's period of discussion on the Scotland and Wales repeal orders be such as to reach a decision before Easter, or is it intended to kick the ball into touch for as long as possible?

Mr. Foot

I do not know where the hon. Member gets his metaphors from, but we should await the statement and then the House can express its views, which is the normal way to proceed.

Mr. Welsh

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that this tiny step does not affect the real issue at stake? May we have a date for the vote? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that if a statement is not forthcoming before next week's Business Statement the SNP will table a motion of no confidence?

Mr. Foot

Due weight has to be given to these representations.

Mr. Torney

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the EEC has recently destroyed or fed to cattle millions of metric tons of apples and cauliflowers? Exorbitant prices are being charged in our shops for these commodities. The CAP is totally inadequate for Britain. Will my right hon. Friend therefore arrange for an early debate on the matter?

Mr. Foot

There will be occasions for the House to discuss the specific matter raised by my hon. Friend, but the House has recently had many opportunities to express its general view on the subject.

Mr. Higgins

In view of the widespread concern at the Inland Revenue's scandalously unfair decision to negotiate a tax amnesty with trade unions in Fleet Street, may we have a debate at the earliest opportunity? Is the Leader of the House aware that the answers to parliamentary questions imply that Ministers do not consider that they are responsible for that decision? May we debate that as well?

Mr. Foot

Whether we should have a debate is another matter, but the Inland Revenue is acting within the laws passed by this House.

Mr. Fitt

With the publication of the Bennett report tomorrow morning and the statement that is to be made in the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is the Leader of the House aware of the considerable controversy surrounding the report? May we have a full-scale and unrestricted debate on every aspect of the Bennett report at the earliest opportunity? Will my right hon. Friend also ensure that the leak on the Bennett report that is about to take place to British journalists will also occur tonight in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Foot

I do not arrange the leaks, so I cannot respond to that, but I note what my hon. Friend says. Much the best course is for the House to listen to tomorrow's statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and then see how we shall proceed.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is the Lord President interested in the unemployment levels? If so, will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Trade to tell the House what is the Government's view on the concessions made to the United States at the Tokyo round of GATT? As the concessions granted, and those proposed by the EEC, will undoubtedly affect seriously the long-term prospects for textiles, paper and board in this country, will he make a statement on the unemployment that is bound to result?

Mr. Foot

The Government are always concerned about the levels of unemployment. I shall see whether it is the best course for a statement to be made on these matters.

Mr. Faulds

May I pursue the urgency of pursuing the matters raised in the Bingham report, particularly in view of the renegade attitude displayed by the ex-Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), in the quite disgraceful programme on Southern Rhodesia two nights ago?

Mr. Foot

I cannot comment on any programme. I have already referred to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). We are concerned to see whether we can bring this matter back to the House of Commons, which is the proper place to decide it. However, we must have some discussions before that can occur.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is it not an absurd sense of priorities for the Leader of the House to pursue the dead question of the Bingham report but at the same time to ignore his duty to lay an order before the House on the question of the repeal of the devolution Acts? In the light of the Prime Minister's statement, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that as soon as that order is laid he will revise the business for next week so that the House can come to a decision?

Mr. Foot

It will be much wiser for the hon. Member to await the statement. Then we can decide how we should proceed. As for criticising the Government's sense of priorities, I should point out that the first item on Monday's business is that which was asked for by the Opposition. I was expecting a vote of thanks from the Opposition, not these testy criticisms.

Mr. Arthur Latham

Will the Government respond to early-day motions Nos. 321

[That this House deplores the intended imminent killing of nearly 200,000 seals in Newfoundland; notes that this is for solely commercial purposes; is sickened that hunters will put these animals to death by smashing their heads in with clubs and may even skin some baby seals alive; and asks Her Majesty's Government to make representations to the Canadian Government to stop this cruel massacre and itself to announce a ban on the import of seal products into the United Kingdom]

end 305?

[That this House, accepting the views of the RSPCA that the suffering caused to baby seals by clubbing to death is quite unacceptable, applauds Great Britain for its ban on clubbing; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to give a further lead to the world by imposing a ban on the importation of seal products]

Will my right hon. Friend seriously consider tabling a motion next week with a view to appointing a Select Committee on retirement and leisure, to consider not merely problems and opportunities of pensioners but the difficulties facing all people who have more spare time? Working people should be given the opportunity to pursue education, culture and recreation in a way that has not been possible in the past.

Mr. Foot

I shall consider my hon. Friend's second point. I have no comment to make about it now. I have seen early-day motion No. 321 and I acknowledge that it has wide support in the House and that there is obviously strong feeling about it. There will be a debate in the House next Friday on some aspects of these matters, and some of these questions can be raised then.

Mr. Fairbairn

In view of the volcanic threats made by the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Welsh), does the Lord President know the ancient Scottish adage,"Montes Scotici parturunt, ridiculus mus tartanicus nascitur "? In view of the fact that the policy of consensus, which the Prime Minister introduced this country to in 1977, has resulted in responsible officers of the courts going on strike in order to bully other people to obtain things for themselves, may we have a debate on the present state of industrial relations that the Government have brought upon us?

Mr. Foot

I am not quite sure whether the hon. and learned Member's Scots is as good as his Latin. I would prefer to listen to him on the one rather than the other. We had a debate in the House on industrial relations and the Government gave a view from the Front Bench. I have already read out some of next week's business that will touch on this subject. Once again, I would have expected a vote of thanks, even from the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn).

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Secretary of State for the Environment has refused to intervene to prevent the London Pavilion from being disembowelled and used for non-entertainment purposes? Will he ask the Secretary of State to justify to the House his inaction in this matter?

Mr. Foot

I did not know any of these facts before my hon. Friend raised them. I dare say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has many other matters to engage him as well. However, I shall look at this question.

Mrs. Bain

In view of the welcome announcement of the Government's intention to extend the home credit scheme for United Kingdom ship owners for major conversions, when can we expect this legislation to be published and could its publication be coupled with an early date on the shipbuilding industry and the corporate plan?

Mr. Foot

I am glad to have the welcome that the hon. Lady gives to the announcement which will help both Scotland and Northern Ireland. I cannot give a date yet. I fully acknowledge the other matter that she has raised, but this is an extremely important question affecting the livelihood of many thousands of people in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Therefore we are entitled to take a little time in order to reach the best solution in difficult circumstances.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Does the Leader of the House appreciate that until he gives us a chance to decide in detail upon the recommendations of the Pro cedure Committee he cannot redeem the pledge that he gave to the House that we could look more satisfactorily at the way in which we deal with EEC legislation?

Mr. Foot

I am well aware of my obligations to the House and of the different views that are held on some of the matters under consideration. I accept that we must proceed on these matters. The Procedure Committee has indicated its wish to proceed quickly as well.

Mr. Canavan

When the question of next week's statement on the Scotland Act was discussed, reference was made to a possible free vote on the order. Why-should there be a free vote on something that was a specific commitment in the Labour Party manifesto and was endorsed by an absolute majority of those who turned out for the referendum?

Mr. Foot

I must ask my hon. Friend and the rest of the House to await the statement next week.

Mr. Biffen

Is it the intention of the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on the interim report of the committee on the functions of financial institutions headed by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) on the financing of small firms? That report was published this afternoon.

Mr. Foot

I have not had time to consider whether this should be debated next week. Of course the Government would want to give their views in such a debate. I cannot promise an early debate, but obviously at some stage the House will wish to discuss this matter.

Mr. Kinnock

In view of the great importance attached to the repeal of the Scotland Act and the Wales Act, will my right hon. Friend give an absolute, solemn and irreversible undertaking that the matter will be debated weeks before October 1979?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that my hon. Friend put that question in the same amiable spirit as he occasionally adopts. I accept it in that spirit.

Mr. William Clark

If the Leader of the House cannot promise a debate on the tax amnesty for certain casual workers in Fleet Street, will he persuade the Chancellor to make a statement to the House? Is it not totally unfair that one section of taxpayers should be given an amnesty while other sections are not? Does he agree that there is no precedent for this amnesty?

Mr. Foot

I am not prepared to discuss the merits or demerits of the matter. It would be absurd for me to attempt to answer questions like this at such a time. I shall consider the request for a statement. All that I have said before is that the Inland Revenue is carrying out the law of the land, and that must be taken into account.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

In view of the silent and dignified vigil by the nurses outside Parliament, should not we pay heed and have an early debate, so that we can be assured that the nurses will not be less well treated than the more loud-mouthed sections of society?

Mr. Foot

There will be a debate on the subject this evening, in which hon. Members may join. I agree with what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said about the dignified way in which the nurses put their case. I assure him that the Government are well aware of the strength of their case.

Mr. Raison

Why is the House not to be asked to approve the public expenditure White Paper? Is the Lord President afraid to put the matter to a vote?

Mr. Foot

The Government will put down a motion on the Order Paper and the Opposition will also have the opportunity, if they wish, to put down a motion. I hope that it will be superfluous. The hon. Gentleman may have the chance of voting on the words actually put forward by the right hon. Lady. I should have thought that that would satisfy him. I think that it is a little churlish to criticise. The right hon. Lady pressed strongly for this debate. I have taken her representations fully into account. The debate will take place at the beginning of next week. That should bring forth universal acclaim.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the Lord President arrange for the statements on the great Fleet Street tax fiddle and the Civil Service strike to be delivered on the same day? People will then be more easily able to see how the Government pay off one group of trade unionists by allowing them to fiddle their tax and allow another group of trade unionists to lock up people's savings—savings that have been entrusted to the Government—so that those affected must borrow from the banks at exorbitant rates of interest to make ends meet.

Mr. Foot

The compressing into one single question of the points put by the hon. Gentleman is a gross abuse of the way in which these matters should be presented to the House. I hope, therefore, that the House and the country will follow the customary rule of never believing anything the hon. Gentleman says unless it can be checked at a reputable source.

Mr. Aitken

On the matter of the tax amnesty, is the Lord President aware that the Government cannot disclaim all responsibility for an unprecedented privilege being extended to a group of workers in Fleet Street? Surely it is right that if the traditional standards of impartiality of the Inland Revenue have been changed in favour of extending special privileges to groups of trade unionists, the House should debate the matter as soon as possible.

Mr. Foot

There are many other implications about the Inland Revenue's conduct that enter into these matters. I am not prepared to discuss the merits or demerits of the matter by way of business questions. I say neither more nor less.