HC Deb 29 March 1979 vol 965 cc622-39
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President the business that he proposes to ask the House to complete before the Dissolution?

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

I should like to make a statement on the business that the House will be asked to complete before Dissolution.

As the Order Paper shows today, the House is being asked to approve a motion to allow Government business to be taken tomorrow, 30 March, so that we can complete the remaining stages of the Merchant Shipping Bill, proceedings on the Legal Aid Bill [Lords], remaining stages of the Land Registration (Scotland) Bill [Lords] and of the Credit Unions Bill, and to approve some procedural motions.

MONDAY 2 APRIL.—The House will be asked to agree proceedings on the Representation of the People Bill.

Completion of remaining stages of the Arbitration Bill [Lords]; the Crown Agents Bill and the Consents to Prosecutions Bill; and proceedings on the Pneumoconiosis Etc. (Workers' Compensation) Bill.

TUESDAY 3 APRIL. —Proceedings on the Finance Bill and on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Completion of remaining stages of the Weights and Measures Bill; the Leasehold Reform Bill; and the Carriage by Air and Road Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY, 4TH APRIL—Consideration of any Lords amendments to the Banking Bill; the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Bill; and the Estates Agents Bill.

Proceedings on the Ancient Monuments Bill [Lords], and on the three consolidation measures—the Exchange Equalisation Account Bill [Lords]; the International Monetary Fund Bill [Lords]; and the Prosecution of Offences Bill [Lords].

After Royal Assent has been given to Bills agreed to by both Houses, the House will be adjourned.

During the week, Mr. Speaker, it may also be necessary to ask the House to approve other business of an urgent character.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Lord President be a little more forthcoming about the proceedings on the Representation of the People Bill? Presumably that Bill arises because the election is being held on what was to be a local election day. Is it proposed to postpone that local election or at least ensure that voting facilities are provided in separate booths and with separate ballot boxes?

Mr. Foot

Both matters are covered in the Bill. The right hon. Lady and the House will have the opportunity to look at the Bill in detail on Monday. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is giving a press conference on the Bill this afternoon, which is normal when Bills are published.

Mrs. Thatcher

If the Lord President knows the answers to the questions, will be please give them?

Mr. Foot

I have stated what I think is the best way of proceeding. The House will have a full opportunity to look at what is proposed.

Mr. Beith

Is it not an insult to this House that proceedings on its elections and those of the local authorities should be announced by means of a press conference? Will the Lord President at least tell the House whether he intends to postpone the parish council elections, as one of his colleagues appeared to concede a few moments ago, during Home Office questions? Will be please give the House information to which it is entitled?

Mr. Foot

What was said by my hon. Friend about the postponement of the parish council elections is included in the Bill. What I have just said on our procedure is nothing out of the ordinary. When a Bill is published, explanations of it are often given so that the public generally are able to make comments on it. The House will have a full opportunity to discuss the Bill on Monday. When the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and others consider the matter, they will see that we have proceeded with it in the best possible way in the interests of the House.

Mr. Cormack

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Home Secretary is present and he is to give a press conference this afternoon, would it be in order for him to make a statement to the House?

Mr. Foot

If the House would prefer it, the best course would be for my right hon. Friend to make a statement to the House tomorrow. [HON. MEMBERS: "Now; now."] It would be much simpler for the House to do it tomorrow. When the House sees what is proposed, it will realise that it is the best way of proceeding. I shall certainly take into account what the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) has suggested.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Surely the Leader of the House must see that that reply, far from satisfying the House, has enraged it even further. If there is to be a Bill, the statement of the Home Secretary should be made first to the House and then to the members of the press.

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) requests that, and the House asks that we should have a statement today, we shall certainly do our best to secure that. I repeat that the way we have sought to proceed is the normal way in which a Bill is presented.

Mr. Cormack

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Home Secretary seems to have indicated by nodding his head that he is perfectly happy to bring this matter to a conclusion. Could we not have a statement after business questions?

Mr. Foot

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Of course I wish to satisfy the House. I want to secure the best way of proceeding with this matter. It was our belief that we had dealt with this issue in a perfectly normal way. There will be full opportunities to debate the matter on Monday. If a statement is to be made today, it would have to be done at 10 p.m. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] That is the normal way in which such a statement would be made. Personally, I would have thought that the best time for the statement to be made would be before the debate on the Bill, preferably tomorrow morning. That is the best suggestion in the interests of the House.

Mr. Whitelaw

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Clearly the House wants the statement to be made today. [Interruption.] I am trying to help the Leader of the House; perhaps hon. Members will allow me to try to be reasonable. Clearly the Home Secretary is not in a position to make a statement immediately. We must accept that—

Mr. Ernest G. Perry


Mr. Whitelaw

For the best of all possible reasons—he acknowledges that he is not ready, and I can see that he has not got the statement with him. In view of the business that we have today, would it not be reasonable, once we have completed the IBA Bill and before we proceed to the debate on the White Paper, to interrupt proceedings and have the statement?

Mr. Foot

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I would be happy to accept his suggestion. I am not quite sure what time that would be, but I shall try to give some indication when the statement will be.

Mr. John Ellis

Does the Lord President agree that this uproar could have been foreseen, because Conservative Members do not want the election on the same day as the local elections? They want the local elections to be held later, so that there will be a poor turnout. Generally, people in this country would like the convenience of going to the elections once, as there will be many elections this year—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I make an appeal to the House? There will be plenty of opportunities in the weeks to come for all the excitement. Will hon. Members please ask questions on the business for next week?

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am asking you this now because your reply may affect questions that we may have to ask the Leader of the House later. If the House agrees to suspend the Standing Order tomorrow and take Government business, this means that there may be starred amendments to the Merchant Shipping Bill. In the normal course of events, in which Government business would not have been taken, these amendments would not have been starred. Since this is a matter within your discretion, Mr. Speaker, it would be very helpful if you could indicate that in these unusual circumstances you would ignore the fact that the amendments were starred in deciding whether to call them.

Mr. Speaker

I am much obliged to the hon. Member. That is a factor that I will bear in mind, but the House will not expect me to make a ruling off the cuff straight away. I promise to give the most serious consideration to what has been said.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

In view of the changed arrangements, will there be discussions this afternoon on the White Paper on broadcasting, or will that be shelved?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that it needs to be shelved. The statement that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) has suggested should come after the discussions on the Bill will not take very long. I hope that we can then continue with the business on the Order Paper.

Mr. David Price

Is the Lord President aware that to hold a general election and district council elections on the same day will put a very severe strain on returning officers and their staff—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but since there will be a statement later on this question, perhaps we could leave questions on that issue until that statement is made. It will save a lot of time now.

Mr. Price

The only point is, Mr. Speaker, that an announcement has been made from 10 Downing Street. This will go out to returning officers at the technical staff level. Judging from my past experience I expect that they will be in an awful tizz, as it is physically impossible in some rural areas to hold the two elections together. The sooner a statement is made to the people involved in running these elections, the better it will be for the smooth running of our democracy.

Mr. Rooker

Will the Leader of the House tell us whether it will be in order, on the finance legislation on Tuesday, to draw attention to the proceedings in Standing Committee D on 14 June 1977, to the effect that the only amendments on the Order Paper advocating indexation of personal allowances to protect the low-paid were Nos. 331 and 338, in the names of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise)? Is he also aware that the Shadow Chancellor made a wholly untrue statement on "The World at One" today?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to call attention to these matters in the debate. I presume that his remarks will be in order, but that would not be a decision for me. It is a decision for the Chair.

Sir Bernard Braine

Does the "other business" to which the right hon. Member referred include the promised statement about the safety of 33,000 of my constituents on Canvey Island? If not, why not?

Mr. Foot

It is not necessarily included in the legislation, or anything of that sort, but I shall consult the hon. Member and others to see whether a statement on this matter is possible next week.

Mr. Emery

Will the Leader of the House turn his mind to a purely House of Commons matter and ask the Prime Minister to consult the Leader of the Opposition, through the normal channels, to see whether a joint statement should be made before the Dissolution concerning an agreement to accept the Boyle committee's report in its entirety as soon as it is published, or, failing that, to get Members' salaries out of the position whereby Members of the new Parliament will have to vote increases for themselves? Does he agree that whoever is in Government, salaries of Members of Parliament should be linked with someone in the judiciary or with civil servants? If this was so, the matter could be dealt with properly, irrespective of who is Prime Minister.

Mr. Foot

I fully acknowledge the feelings of the House on this matter. They were stated very clearly when we had these debates. I cannot say that I believe that the best way for the House to proceed would be to have an agreement about a report that has not yet been presented. However, I believe that anyone who looks back at the debates that we had on this matter will appreciate the feelings on both sides of the House.

Mr. William Ross

There are quite a number of Bills that the Government hope to proceed with and get Royal Assent for. Can my right hon. Friend reassure us about the Industry Bill, which has been through all stages in this House and is presently in another place? Can we be assured that it will reach the statute book?

Mr. Foot

I think that there can be every assurance that the Bill will reach the statute book. It is in another place at the moment, and it would be a most extraordinary action if that place now prevented it from reaching the statute book.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

In his statement the Lord President said that the House would be able to deal with the Representation of the People Bill next Monday. As he was able to rush through the Welsh slate quarry Bill to buy three votes, why cannot the House see it tomorrow?

Mr. Foot

As the hon. Gentleman made a smear that was completely false, I do not see that it is necessary to answer the rest of the question.

Mr. Pavitt

In spite of the difficulties of finding time for any other business next week, will my right hon. Friend look at my early-day motion No. 34, which was signed by more than 170 Members of Parliament from all parties?

[That this House is deeply concerned about the continuing problems confronting blind people; and, believing that blindness is an extremely severe limiting handicap with resultant problems of mobility and additional living expenses needed to pay for services without which living would be intolerable, is firmly of the opinion that the time has now arrived for Her Majesty's Government to introduce a special blindness allowance for all blind persons over 16 years of age and that such an allowance should be comparable in value with the benefit made available to assist people who cannot walk.]

It seeks to do something for persons afflicted with blindness. In spite of the fact that Parliament will soon be dissolved, will the right hon. Gentleman bring this matter to the attention of his colleagues, who will be most interested in this aspect of help for the blind?

Mr. Foot

We shall look at the matter dealt with in the motion put down by my hon. Friend and signed by many hon. Members. He has raised this matter over a number of weeks. I shall certainly see whether a statement can be made about it. I shall take his advice on the consultation.

Mr. Ridsdale

Will the Leader of the House pay attention to the Merchant Shipping Bill, which is due tomorrow? Is he aware that some of us have received representations from the pilots of Trinity House? To enable us to have time to consult the interests concerned, may this business be postponed until Monday? Otherwise, some hon. Members will object to the Bill, although we realise that it is important for shipping interests that this should take place.

Mr. Foot

It is not easy to fit in all the matters with which I believe the House wishes to proceed. I regret that I cannot accept the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman. However, I hope very much that when the House discusses the matter tomorrow it will take these factors into account. The question is whether the great deal of work done on the Bill will be lost. I should have thought that the House would wish to proceed with the Bill. However, hon. Members will be able to give their views tomorrow.

Mr. Cryer

I know that business is arranged in consultation with the Opposition, but will my right hon. Friend consider introducing a Bill next week to require shareholders to give their written consent for political contributions? That will enable the proper democratic scrutiny to be given to contributions from big business to the Tory Party. It may well be that if that suggestion is put forward the Tory Party will object, perhaps because it is not as concerned with democracy as it would like to make out.

Mr. Foot

I wish that I always shared the eternal optimism of my hon. Friend. I know that he has put the proposal in his most appeasing and attractive manner. However, I still doubt whether the official Opposition would agree.

Mr. Tapsell

May I ask the Leader of the House a question that is not related to our party political concerns in Britain but is of considerable importance in the Pacific? Is it the intention of the Government to obtain Royal Assent, before Dissolution, to the legislation now before Parliament to give independence to the Gilbert Islands, as promised, on 12 July, bearing in mind that a long period of uncertainty about the future of Banaba could be damaging to the stability of that area?

Mr. Foot

I accept the desirability of carrying that Bill through the House. However, it is not included among the measures that we can secure before Dissolution.

Mr. Flannery

As the Common Market will be a major concern in the coming general election, will my right hon. Friend read the article in The Guardian today, by John Palmer, which points out that at one stage we were in grave danger of paying 10 times as much as West Germany to the Common Market? The amount that we paid last year was £750 million, at least.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not asking a business question; he is making a point. If he relates it to a business question, he may conclude it.

Mr. Flannery

As Western Germany pays only £150 million, compared with £750 million from the United Kingdom, will my right hon. Friend, as a matter of urgency, arrange for a major debate in the coming week on the question of the way in which we are being looted by the Common Market, as compared with West Germany?

Mr. Foot

I always read The Guardian and the articles by Mr. John Palmer. I always look with care at his figures. Those figures and arguments will occur in the debate in the country. However, I cannot promise a special debate in the House next week, for obvious reasons.

Mr. Grimond

Whatever the precedents may be, does the Leader of the House not feel that it would be more courteous to the House of Commons, if it is sitting when a Dissolution and general election are announced, if the announcement of the general election were made to the House and not to the press?

Mr. Foot

The House has been treated in the normal manner. It would be unwise for the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else to suggest anything different. It is not the case that this was an improper way with which to deal with the matter; it is the way in which these matters are normally dealt with. I do not think that any hon. Member should make a different suggestion.

Mr. Ward

Will my right hon. Friend consider dropping the Arbitration Bill, to which there is considerable opposition from those outside the House who must live with arbitration?

Mr. Foot

That is one of the Bills that we wish to get through the House. Hon. Members will be able to give their views when these Bills come forward. We hope that most of these Bills—or all, if possible—will go forward fairly speedily. As indicated by the list that I read, that will be necessary to achieve that result. When they have had a chance of looking at these various measures, hon. Members will see that we have tried to prevent wasting the time that the Government, the House of Commons and the other place have given to these measures. I hope that the House will approach these proposals in that spirit.

Mr. Kershaw

Will the Lord President reconsider the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell)? The Gilbert Islands independence Bill is a matter of considerable importance. Will the right hon. Gentleman try to fit it in if he can?

Mr. Foot

I understand the Bill's importance and the fact that it is controversial in some quarters. That must be taken into account. I can understand why the hon. Gentleman grimaces. My proposals take into account the requirements of the House of Commons as a whole.

Mr. Faulds

As hon. Members' bank managers are becoming increasingly despondent and impatient, and as our wives are increasingly denied the standard of living that some of us enjoyed in our previous occupations—and which the rest of the community have—will my right hon. Friend reconsider his reply about hon. Members' salaries and see whether he can institute agreement about this matter before the House is dissolved?

Mr. Foot

I do not believe that that is the best way for the House to deal with the matter. If hon. Members will look back to our debate at the time of the Boyle report and the submission of these matters afresh to the Boyle committee, they will see the way in which the different sides of the House approached the matter. That is the best way to secure the result that I think the House of Commons deserves.

Mr. James Lamond

As my right hon. Friend knows, an important discussion will be held in the Common Market in the next few weeks that will include the question of the amount of textiles that China will be allowed to export to the Common Market. Will there be an announcement during the week about provisions made to safeguard the interests of the British people, and especially the textile industry, in the period of the election campaign?

Mr. Foot

I shall see whether there is any possibility of such a statement, but I cannot give a guarantee. I hope that the House will understand the situation. There are several urgent and important matters about which hon. Members on both sides or their constituents wish to have statements. But if that procedure were followed in all cases there would be a whole list of statements. I do not think that that would be the best way in which to proceed.

Mr. Stokes

Does the Leader of the House remember the question I asked him yesterday, about the whole of the catering staff in the House of Commons going on strike? Will be make a statement on the matter today?

Mr. Foot

I am having a meeting later this afternoon with staff representatives. I hope that we can bring any further possibility of a dispute to an end. I shall talk with them. I heard yesterday of the action taken. It was taken swiftly. Immediately I heard of the action, I offered talks. Those talks are taking place this afternoon.

Mr. Baker

Will the Lord President arrange for a statement to be made next week, before we rise, about the postal strike in London, which may spread outside London? If it does, it will interrupt the delivery of election literature. This could have grave consequences in Marylebone. I am anxious to increase my majority and I can think of no better way of doing so than to ensure that my constituents receive the election addresses of my opponents.

Mr. Foot

Despite the complicated reasoning of the hon. Gentleman, I will, as his suggestion is relevant to the election, see whether a statement should be made upon the subject, but, as I have already said to other hon. Members, we cannot have an accumulation of competing statements during the few days remaining.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. As these are the last business questions before Dissolution, I will call those hon. Members who have already risen, but I hope that they will be brief.

Mr. English

The right hon. Gentleman referred to some procedural motions for next week. I presume that those include the three suggested unanimously by the all-party Procedure Committee, because it would clearly help the Officers of the House if they had a decision of the House on which they could be working during the period of Dissolution.

My right hon. Friend may not be aware that the leader of the Conservative Party in the city of Nottingham is a sub-postmaster called Jack Green. I do not think that it would be to the advantage of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party or anyone else if his election were to be confused with the election of the right hon. Lady.

Mr. Foot

I will look into the second point raised by my hon. Friend. Concerning his first point, my hon. Friend is under a misapprehension if he thinks that I was suggesting that we should have the important, decisive decisions on these procedure questions in the remaining days of this Parliament. I do not think that that would be the proper way in which to treat the report of the Procedure Committee, which he and others have presented to the House.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Most hon. Members on both sides of the House have no rooted objection to facilitating progress on a measure dealing with ancient monuments and archaeological sites, and we appreciate the assistance which you suggested you might offer tomorrow. Mr. Speaker, on the Merchant Shipping Bill, but is the Leader of the House aware that some of us are very unhappy indeed that this Bill should be taken virtually at 12-hours' notice? We regard it as a major national measure dealing with a major national institution—Trinity House—which imposes very heavy fines on citizens of this country in certain circumstances. Some hon. Members would find it very difficult indeed to deal with the Bill tomorrow.

Mr. Foot

We shall have to see how we proceed. Hon. Members are entitled to express their opinion, but I hope that we can secure the Bill. I believe that there is a widespread desire in the House, particularly after the immense amount of work that has been done on it, that the Bill should reach the statute book in this Session, but if hon. Members take a different view we shall have to accept that. I still hope that in the debate the argument will be such that we shall be able to get the Bill to another place and on to the statute book in the next few days. An enormous amount of work has been done by hon. Members and others in preparation for the Bill over many months and years. It would be tragic if that were all to be lost in these last few hours.

Mr. Stoddart

With regard to tax allowance indexation, may I have the assurance of my right hon. Friend that the resolution of this House will be that tax allowances should be indexed? May I further have his assurance that that will be put into effect in any finance measure next week? Will the Government resist any attempts by the Opposition to exclude such a measure?

Mr. Foot

We shall do our best to bring these matters before the House in the most satisfactory way. We hope that we shall have the assistance of the Opposition in securing it.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Further to the important point raised by the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), is the Lord President aware that very important negotiations are taking place at present between the EEC and the United States on the GATT Tokyo round, and that these talks are particularly relevant to employment in the textile and paper and board industries? If it is possible, will the Lord President arrange for the Secretary of State for Trade, as I requested last week, to come to the House to make a statement, so that these industries may know where they stand for the future?

Mr. Foot

I accept the importance of the subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), and I underline the answer that I have already given to my hon. Friend. But I repeat that I do not believe that the House would accept that the best way to proceed next week would be to have a long series of statements on a series of subjects. We have to be selective in some degree, but I will look into it, in exactly the way that I promised my hon. Friend.

Mr. Molloy

Would my right hon. Friend be prepared to consider making arrangements for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement on whether it is permissible and possible for the London borough of Ealing to make ex gratia payments to the victims of floods that have taken place at Green-ford, in my constituency, particularly as in the past month an independent report has been issued which apportions a great part of the blame for the floods to maladministration and error by that authority? In the interests of fair play and justice, my constituents ought to have ex gratia payments, but the London borough of Ealing majority party and some officials are dodging the column. Should not my right hon. Friend be prepared to make a statement?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a statement on the subject, but I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to communicate with my hon. Friend on this matter, which I am sure is of great importance to his constituents.

Mr. Adley

Is the Lord President aware that his predilection for press conferences means that he has not told the House the date of the next general election? Does not he feel slightly ashamed of that?

The Lord President told one of his hon. Friends earlier that he hoped to get the Industry Bill through the House. Does not the result of last night's vote effectively mean that the only measures that can go through Parliament now are those that can command the total approval of the House? Is that or is that not so? If it is so, is it not slightly odd for the Lord President to dictate to another place what it should or should not do to a Bill?

With regard to the Merchant Shipping Bill, is the Lord President aware that a new clause was passed, with the support of Back Benchers on each side of the Committee, by 10 votes to two? What will be the position of the Whips on each side of the House if we have to deal with this legislation tomorrow?

Mr. Foot

Concerning the hon. Gentleman's last point, the view of the Government and the recommendation of the Government will be made to the House in the usual manner when the matter is debated in the House tomorrow. I think that that is the proper way in which to deal with it. It would certainly be extraordinary if I were to deal with it by making special announcements on such matters here and now.

I have indicated that the Industry Bill has gone through this House, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, and is now in the other place and would have been about to receive the Royal Assent. It would be extraordinary if the other place were to interfere with such a Bill at such a moment. I do not believe that it would have the slightest intention of doing so.

The announcement of the date of the election has been made in the usual manner, and I see it as a gross abuse of the English language for anyone to say that I have proceeded shamefully. It shows that some hon. Members have become so hysterical that they abuse the language.

Mr. Edward Lyons

In view of the help to be provided by the Local Government Grants (Ethnic Groups) Bill to local authorities and ratepayers, as well as to ethnic groups, will my right hon. Friend say what has happened to the Bill? As it does not appear in the list for next week, does that mean that the Conservative Party is not prepared to give it an appropriately swift passage to the statute book?

Mr. Foot

There are several Bills, including that Bill, that we would have liked to see on the statute book, but we have to take into account, as the House does, that it would not be possible to get through quite a number of Bills which, although highly desirable, are to some degree controversial. The Bills that we trust will go through the House now are Bills which, almost in their entirety, are uncontroversial.

Mr. Crouch

Is the Leader of the House sure that he is showing his usual courtesy to the House in regard to the manner of the announcement of the Dissolution of Parliament and the date of the next general election? Has he perhaps been guided by a precedent set 55 years ago by the first Labour Prime Minister? Can he let the House know how it was that Mr. Ramsay MacDonald announced to the nation the Dissolution of Parliament? Was it not done in this House first?

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Gentleman and the House will look again, they will see that we have followed precedents exactly. I do not believe that there is any discourtesy to the House whatever. When hon. Members came to the House they were well aware of the situation, and I believe that it is foolish for them to quibble about a matter of this nature. It is not that the House has been inconvenienced in any way at all by the way in which we have proceeded.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Bearing in mind the speed with which the pneumoconiosis Bill was finally rushed into print, and bearing in mind our general support of it in principle, is the Lord President satisfied that there has been adequate time for consultation with representatives of the sufferers involved, of whom there are a variety? Is he further aware that certainly the Conservatives have not had time to carry out adequate consultations?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept the fact that there has not been time for general consultations on the particular items in the Bill, although there has been considerable time for the subject itself to be discussed. I believe that hon. Members will have to look at the Bill and make up their own minds. I very much hope that the House will be prepared to let this Bill go through. I had thought that it commanded general assent, but that will be for the House. Certainly the Government hope that this Bill can proceed to the statute book.

Mr. Ridley

With regard to the Finance Bill on Tuesday, is the Lord President aware that the Government do not have the authority to make any provision for finance for the next financial year? Is it, therefore, to be a Bill empowering the provisional collection of taxes Acts to be extended, as it should be?

Mr. Foot

I must ask the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and others to await the way in which the Bill is presented. Some discussions are still taking place through the usual channels on these matters. We hope that a generally agreed conclusion will be reached. At the moment I must ask the House and the hon. Gentleman to await the outcome of those discussions.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I entirely accept that the Lord President of the Council is acting in accordance with precedent in not making an announcement himself, or through his right hon. Friend, about the date of Dissolution, but it seems strange for him to be putting forward a rather conservative argument—"This is what has always been done before". Would he care to tell the House why the statement has not been made to this House, and whether this practice should continue or there should be a change? It would be very interesting to have that as the Lord President's swan song.

Mr. Foot

There is no question of any swan song. The reason why we did not depart from precedent was that we thought that if we did some blithering idiot might get up and ask why we had done so. Therefore, we thought that much the safest course was to act in a conservative manner, particularly because it did not do any harm to anybody. We thought that it might satisfy even the antediluvian right hon. and hon. Members opposite. I thought that we were satisfying everybody. It just shows how difficult it is to please.

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I say to the Lord President, and for the record, that it is official that there are no blithering idiots in this House?