§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a business statement on the re-arrangement of business for this week:
TUESDAY 10 MAY—Proceedings on the Importation of Milk Bill.
WEDNESDAY 11 MAY—Proceedings on the Finance Bill.
Remaining stages of the Health and Social Services and Social Security Adjudications Bill [Lords].
Remaining stages of the Local Authorities (Expenditure Powers) Bill.
Proceedings on the Litter Bill [Lords] which is a consolidation measure.
The House will be asked to pass all outstanding Votes and Estimates.
THURSDAY 12 MAY—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.
Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Agricultural Holdings (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill [Lords].
Proceedings of the County Courts (Penalties for Contempt) Bill [Lords].
FRIDAY 13 MAY—Any other business which it may be necessary to ask the House to agree before being adjourned.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
We understand why the business has been changed. May I tell the Leader of the House that we appreciate the efficiency with which the change has been achieved? We would, of course, have liked to have heard the Government's case for their defence policy but, never mind, we shall be content with the Mental Health (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill [Lords] instead.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Why have the Government been so determined to prevent the House from having the debate on defence which it wanted to have? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that debate will now be conducted out of doors and that the Government will lose it?
§ Mr. Biffen
Doubtless the events of 9 June will reveal whether the Government will lose that debate. If the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is implying that in this election, as in previous ones, he will be advising the support of the Labour party, well, we shall follow that with much interest.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have already stood in their place and then return to the Adjournment debate.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Why are the Government so ready to abandon four major Bills upon which they have spent so much time in this session— 708 the Data Protection Bill, the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, the Housing and Building Control Bill and the Telecommunications Bill? Why have the arguments which seemed so heavy suddenly been abandoned?
§ Mr. Biffen
I think that the answer is that the welcome co-operation that has been extended in other parts of the House to secure the passage of the Bills that I have just announced was not forthcoming for those Bills. In a spirit of realism, it was not thought appropriate to include them.
§ Mr. Jack Dormand (Easington)
Does the Leader of the House recall the exchanges that we had this afternoon about the Top Salaries Review Body report which has been at No. 10 since last week? In view of the disappointing statement that he has just made, does he now agree that there are several pressing issues which ought to be attended to? Will he give an assurance that if they are not debated on the Floor of the House something will be done, if I may so describe it, behind the scenes?
§ Mr. Biffen
I have just announced a valuable list of legislation, and it shows a proper sense of priorities that that should take precedence over a debate upon the report of the Top Salaries Review Board, but I take note of what the hon. Gentleman said.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
Does the Leader of the House accept that it would have been possible, by using Friday for public business, for us to have had a one-day debate on defence and disarmament? Many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that it is unfortunate that the House does not have an opportunity to explore the Government's defence and disarmament proposals here before we go to the country. Does he also accept that the Local Authorities (Expenditure Powers) Bill is not altogether uncontroversial and may take some time on Wednesday? Finally, does he accept that the point of view advanced about Members' conditions is shared widely throughout the House, and that perhaps the business timetable could be reconsidered?
§ Mr. Biffen
I take note of the hon. Gentleman's last point, but I have nothing to add to what I said to the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand). As to the possibility of our having a one-day defence debate as well as the formidable programme of legislation that I have just announced, I do not believe that that would be practicable. I hope that the hon. Gentleman believes that debating defence on the hustings at a general election is at least some recompense, and I have no doubt that all the arguments will be carefully and zealously portrayed, and that the result will be fascinating.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)
If that long list of the important measures that the Leader of the House has announced is so important and needs such long discussion, and since the Government have an adequate working majority, why did they not use the year left to them to give proper consideration to that legislation? Was it not because they are now taking advantage of what they think is a short-term advantage of an apparent lead in the opinion polls; and will not the public see through their cynicism?
§ Mr. Biffen
The hon. Gentleman's point, although fascinating, does not strictly relate to the business of the next two or three days.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Does the Leader of the House accept that the Secretary of State for Defence has 709 continually reasserted his claim that the debate on defence should take place in the Chamber when he refuses to debate the matter with CND representatives? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the public will indict the Government for refusing to have a debate in Parliament, and that we shall win the debate outside? Will he arrange for a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence on the amount of taxpayers' money that has been used to provide pamphlets and other information in the defence debate to the Conservative party and to Conservative front organisations? It must have cost the taxpayer several thousand pounds.
§ Mr. Biffen
There will be regret on both sides of the House that our business has had to be rearranged in such a way as not to allow time for a defence debate, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we all look forward to that debate on the hustings. I certainly believe that his confidence is more than matched on the Conservative Benches. I shall consider his request for a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and I shall refer his remarks to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
The Leader of the House has just told us that we all regret that the defence debate has had to be jettisoned. Why did it have to be jettisoned? Debates have presumably taken place at Conservative party headquarters and at Chequers about whether the date of the election should be 9 June, 16 June or 23 June. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he did not know perfectly well that two days were set aside for that debate, for which we have been asking for years? We have not had a debate and a vote on cruise missiles, but millions of people have wished it. I suggest that the Government have run away from this issue.
§ Mr. Biffen
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are not running away from the issue of the proper defence of this country. I can only say that as we do not live in the best of all possible worlds I am unable to meet his desire for a debate.