HC Deb 22 March 1979 vol 964 cc1708-18
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 26 MARCH and TUESDAY 27 MARCH—Debate on a motion on the statement on the Defence Estimates, Cmnd. 7474.

At the end of the debate on Monday: motion on EEC documents R/2712/78, R/2311/78 and R/2163/78 on the Community's energy policy.

Remaining stages of the Forestry Bill [Lords].

Motions on the Redundant Mine-workers Concessionary Coal Order and on the Mineworkers' Pensions Scheme Order.

At the end of the debate on Tuesday: remaining stages of the Public Health Laboratory Service Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH—Second Reading of the Legal Aid Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Credit Unions Bill.

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

THURSDAY 29 MARCH—Remaining stages of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Bill.

Debate on the White Paper on broadcasting, Cmnd. 7294.

Motion on the British Broadcasting Corporation Supplemental Licence Agreement and Royal Charter.

FRIDAY 30 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 2 APRIL—Debate on CAP price proposals for 1979–80, document 4648/79 and addendas 1, 2 and 3, and on EEC documents R/2369/78 and R/2162/78.

Mrs. Thatcher

Bearing in mind that our proposals for Scotland have already been published for some time, and already turned down by the Government, and that other parties might have similar views which they could express to the Government briefly, will the Lord President bear in mind that for Wednesday or Thursday's business he could substitute a debate on the orders to which the Prime Minister so recently referred?

Mr. Foot

I certainly bear everything that the right hon. Lady says in mind, but, on reflection, I believe that she would also agree that the best way to proceed is that suggested by the Prime Minister this afternoon.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the very special relationship between political parties and the media with regard to by-elections and elections? My right hon. Friend may be aware that the Liberal candidate in the present by-election in Liverpool, Edge Hill has refused to appear on Granada Television, which precludes the other candidates. On that basis, will my right hon. Friend see whether time could be found for a debate? Possibly an approach may be made to the IBA in this regard.

Mr. Foot

If the statements made by my hon. Friend are true, as I suspect them to be, a very serious situation exists in regard to that by-election. It seems a very illiberal attitude for anyone to adopt, but if the Leader of the Liberal Party can assure us that there is no such difficulty, or at any rate that he has managed to get the Liberal candidate to change his mind, I shall be gratified to hear it right away.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Steel.

Mr. David Steel

I do not think, Mr. Speaker, that this is really in order under business questions—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I called the right hon. Gentleman to ask a question.

Mr. Steel

My difficulty is that I am trying desperately to think how I can ask a question. Is the Leader of the House aware that what he has just been told is quite untrue, and that the Liberal candidate in the by-election will be participating in television programmes? However, he certainly took exception to the format of one programme, and I understand that negotiations are still going on. However, the other programmes are going ahead and all the candidates will be participating.

Mr. Foot

Part of what my hon. Friend said is true. I hope the position will be cleared up. I hope that no restriction at all will be imposed in that by-election. I am glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's assent to this proposition, because I hope that we are all in favour of open government in Edge Hill.

Mr. Grieve

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to early-day motion No. 324, standing in my name and that of 87 of my right hon. and hon. Friends?

[That this House regrets that the Inland Revenue should appear to be departing from its traditional impartiality.]

Will he give the House an early opportunity to debate this motion? There is widespread concern throughout the length and breadth of the country about the recent departures by the Inland Revenue from what was believed to be its policy of impartiality between taxpayers.

Mr. Foot

I cannot accept reflections on the way in which the Inland Revenue does it business on the basis of the hon. and learned Gentleman's allegations or those in the motion. I do not see the necessity or desirability of such a debate, but I shall have a look at the matter, although at present I have nothing to add to what I said on this subject a week ago.

Mr. Spearing

Does the Lord President recall that the business of EEC energy, which should have taken place last Tuesday, had been expected to last for about three and a half hours? Since it has now been transferred to Monday next after 10 o'clock, will he give consideration to extending that debate to its original proposed length?

Mr. Foot

I am sorry, but I cannot agree with my hon. Friend's suggestion. We had to transfer the business for reasons that I think were for the convenience of the House as a whole. In view of the transfer, it will unfortunately mean that the length of time available for the debate will not be as long as we had previously hoped and arranged. I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but some other business will also be considered on that day and we must also take that into account.

Sir Bernard Braine

Can the Leader of the House say whether the promised statement by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about his visit to the Pacific, which took place more than three weeks ago, will be made next week? Is he aware that the longer this statement is delayed the more the impression will be given that the Government have something to hide about the Banaban question? Incidentally, when shall we have a Bill in the House?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend's report is being considered and the Government's views will be made known in due course. I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says on the other aspect of the matter. The Bill will be introduced at a fairly early stage, when the House will have the chance to debate it.

Miss Boothroyd

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the desire of many hon. Members to focus attention on the aims of the international year of the child and the special welfare and health programmes that are needed, particularly to meet the needs of children in the developing world and the demographic trends related to these programmes? Will he consider my request, made many weeks ago, to find time for a debate on this wide-ranging issue?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend raises a perfectly eligible subject for debate. I would say to her and other hon. Members of the House that this is a question that can be raised in private Members' time. That is not to suggest anything derogatory to the importance of the subject. That is why private Members' time is provided by this House on a more ample basis, believe, than is the case in any other legislature in the world.

Sir David Renton

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what he intends to do next week about the constructive proposals in the report of the Procedure Committee, published on Tuesday, for enabling the House to reach decisions on the main isssues that arise on its report?

Mr. Foot

I have read the report. I think that the further report that the Committee has presented to us is most helpful in suggesting how we might proceed. I do not accept that every proposal made is the way that we would wish to proceed, but the Committee's approach has certainly assisted us in the discussions that are taking place between ourselves and others in the House on ways to discuss the matter when we come back to it.

Mr. Watt

When shall we have an opportunity to debate the Expenditure Committee's report on the fishing industry? Is the Leader of the House aware that the present state of uncertainty cannot continue, as many boatbuilders in my constituency are threatened with redundancy?

Mr. Foot

I acknowledge the importance of the subject. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the whole question of the future of the fishing industry has been constantly referred to and discussed in the House. I am sure that we shall need to have further discussions in due course. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be here to assist us in those discussions.

Dr. Bray

Will my right hon. Friend say when the Government will announce their proposals to deal with the breach of oil sanctions in Rhodesia? Will he say whether the Government propose to make their proposals known before the election in Rhodesia?

Mr. Foot

I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend that I have nothing further to add this week to what I said last week in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), who raised the question. I had hoped to be in a position to make a further statement this week. I hope, in any case, to be able to do so next week.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate that the arrangements for next week's business may be rather provisional, but life must go on. Does not the Lord President think that Thursday's business looks overcrowded? Is it wise to attempt to have a debate on the Independent Broadcasting Bill and on the White Paper on broadcasting on the same day? Would it not be better to take the debate on the White Paper on broadcasting first, or, better still, to have these debates on different days?

Mr. Foot

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we are dealing with a leisurely prospect ahead of us. None the less, I believe there is an obvious association in all these topics. It may be found, on reflection, that the order that we have proposed for discussion also has its advantages.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call those hon. Members who have already been standing.

Mr. Ioan Evans

In view of the serious allegations made in the special"Tonight"programme about the activities of the South African Government in financing politicians, newspapers and front organisations in various countries, can we expect a Government statement next week, or is an investigation taking place?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a Government statement, but I will look into the subject in the light of my hon. Friend's representations.

Mr. Cormack

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the opinion of most people in this country his Government's programme is threadbare and its honour and credibility are destroyed? Does he accept that the Scottish National Party, in the motion that it has recently tabled, appears to have a better idea of the priorities of the situation?

Mr. Foot

We are all waiting to see whether the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends have the courage of the Scottish nationalist convictions. It will be interesting to see. The hon. Gentleman should look at the programme that is ahead of us for a considerable period before he makes such suggestions.

We have the important discussions that I have announced on broadcasting, on many interesting subjects, and, on Monday week, on the common agricultural policy. Shortly afterwards, a major housing Bill will be presented to Parliament and, as the House knows, the Budget will be presented on 3 April. I am sure that the Opposition will be eager to make a contribution. There is plenty of good business to be done in the weeks and months ahead.

Mr. Christopher Price

Will my right hon. Friend be more specific than the Prime Minister this afternoon about the Government's intentions in relation to the Official Information Bill, which comes up for its Report stage on 6 April? The Prime Minister mentioned having discussions. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that those discussions, if they are to take place, can be initiated quickly? It is a complicated matter when one is dealing with a Back Bench Bill with sponsors from many parties. The sooner that we get on, the better.

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly take into account all that my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that yet another week has gone by and he has failed to redeem his promise to the House to give a proper opportunity to discuss EEC legislation? He cannot prevaricate by thanking the Select Committee on Procedure for yet another report and using that as a get-out. It has gone on for far too long. Will he please tell the House that he will give it a chance next week to know what he intends to do to redeem his promise?

Mr. Foot

There is no question of anything that can even distantly be described as prevarication. I made no promise last week to make a statement on this subject this week. I have referred to this matter—it is important—and the House will wish to discuss it at some future date. I have not made a commitment about the time at which it should take place. There are different views among different hon. Members. The Committee on Procedure, to which the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) referred, has proposed to the Government a different order of priorities for discussion. I do not say that there is anything final about that, but we must take it into account.

Mr. Cryer

We have seen earlier this afternoon an example of the concern of the House for loss of human life. Does my right hon. Friend accept that between 800 and 1,000 lives are lost through industrial injuries every year in Britain's factories? More days are lost through industrial injuries than through strike action. We have not had a debate in the House on any annual report of the factory inspectors or the Health and Safety Commission. Some time ago my right hon. Friend indicated that this would be possible. Can he now give a firmer indication that this matter should be debated? The Health and Safety Commission is accountable to this House. My guess is that if there were another Flix-borough, or some other major disaster, we would have a debate pretty soon. Why cannot we keep abreast of matters by having a debate?

Mr. Foot

I acknowledge the claim of my hon. Friend, and others with a special interest in this subject, for a debate in the House. He will acknowledge that this Government gave high priority to the question. That is why we put through the Act of Parliament that set up the Health and Safety Executive. Since then, we have carried through a whole series of measures seeking to ensure that the Act is effective. I am not denying that there is a claim to have a debate in the House to see how we are proceeding.

Mr. Bowden

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion No. 177, in my name, on the death grant?

[That this House of the view that steps should be taken as soon as possible to restore the death grant to its original 1949 value, in real terms, which would require an increase of £124.81, Official Report, 15 January, column 630, and to abolish the age restriction and end the discrimination against very elderly people who are at present unable to get any form of death grant as urged by the Parliamentary All Party Group for Pensioners and the National Federation of Old Age Pensions Associations, the British Pensioners and Trade Unions Action Committee, Age Concern (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), Help the Aged, the Scottish Old Age Pensions Association and others.]

It is an all-party motion, with 189 signatures. Can the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate? If not, will he undertake to have a quiet word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is finalising his Budget, and remind him how important is an increase in the death grant?

Mr. Foot

There is a widespread feeling in the House and throughout the country on this matter. At the last Labour Party conference—I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was present—a motion on the subject was passed. I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be weighing all these questions.

Mr. Eyre

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to early-day motion No. 336, which refers to the report of the Town and Country Planning Association?

[That this House expresses concern at the report of the Town and Country Planning Association to the effect that the Government's declared policies to revitalise the run-down areas of cities are failing on the principal grounds that the Government plans: (a) have too little to do with local people, (b) have produced a large bureaucracy, (c) are wasting public money, and (d) do not involve private firms enough; and in view of the greatly increased unemployment and deteriorating conditions in the major towns and cities, especially in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds and parts of London, calls upon the Government to review urgently and amend their policies in the light of this report.]

This sets out the reasons why the Government's policies, aimed at revitalising the run-down areas of cities, are failing. Does the Leader of the House recognise the seriousness of these problems? Will he arrange for them to be debated at an early date?

Mr. Foot

I have read the hon. Gentleman's motion and examined the terms of it. If he and his hon. Friends look afresh at the terms of the motion, they may reach a different conclusion. They should re-read the report, because their précis is a travesty of what is in the report. It makes a more positive contribution than the Opposition wish to recognise. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Frieinds will re-read the report and reconsider whether they wish to keep the motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

In view of the number of requests for debate that the Leader of the House has had from the minority parties such as the Liberal and Scottish National Parties, can he assure us that he and the Government are not simply prolonging this Parliament in order to fit in those debates in the next few weeks?

Mr. Foot

This Parliament is going forward to deal with important questions. The business that I have announced today is the final, complete and conclusive answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Younger

Is the Leader of the House aware of the extremely serious situation in Scotland, where a wide range of public services are at a halt because of strike action against the Government's handling of their pay policy by ambulance men, hospital workers, teachers and civil servants? Why is there no time to debate this matter next week? If there is no time, will the Leader of the House set up the Scottish Grand Committee so that we can have a full debate on this important matter and public services in Scotland can return to normal?

Mr. Foot

I do not deny the seriousness of the situation. However, I doubt whether all hon. Members agree that the Scottish Grand Committee is the place where these matters should be discussed. Negotiations are still taking place. We should await their outcome before considering whether to discuss the matter in the House.

Mr. Fitt


Mr. Speaker

Order, The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was not in the House when I said that I would call those hon. Members who had already been standing, but as a measure of good will, and not as a precedent, I call him.

Mr. Fitt

In view of the controversy that has surrounded the publication, analysis and interpretation of the Bennett report, and since another prominent member of the medical profession in Northern Ireland resigned last night because of the controversy, will the Leader of the House arrange as soon as possible for a full debate on the Bennett report on the Floor of the House, so that all the difficulties can be debated and dispensed with?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland takes one view among the many that are taken about the report? Will he therefore arrange for an early debate to enable all opinions to be expressed on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate next week, but I can assure my hon. Friend and others that I understand their strength of feeling and how much they wish to have the matter debated further in the House. We had some exchanges a few days ago. I shall examine the request, but I cannot make a commitment.