BUSINESS OF HOUSE
Will Michael Footthe Leader of the House please state next week's business?
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 3rd May—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
Debate on appointments by the Committee of Selection.
Tuesday 4th May—Second Reading of the Rent (Agriculture) Bill.
Remaining stages of the Atomic Energy Authority (Special Constables) Bill and of the Land Drainage (Amendment) Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 5th May—Progress on the Report stage of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
Thursday 6th May—Supply [19th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on the Army, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Friday 7th May—Private Members' Bills.
Monday 10th May—Until about 7 o'clock, remaining stages of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
Afterwards, completion of the remaining stages of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
Will the debate on Monday, following the conclusion of the debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, take place on the motion tabled by my right hon. Friends and myself? Furthermore, so that we may be better able to debate the matter thoroughly, will the right hon. Gentleman say on what provision in “Erskine May” the Prime Minister was relying when he referred to this subject and enunciated a totally different principle from any we have ever known, and, indeed, a principle which appears to be wholly at variance with the precedents established from February to October 1974?
I suggest that the best way to deal with all these questions, including that put by the right hon. Lady the [column 558]Leader of the Opposition, is to debate the matter on Monday not on the motion tabled by the right hon. Lady and her colleagues but on the Adjournment of the House. [Hon. Members: “No.” ] It will then be open to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection to report to the House on the effects of the decision of his Committee. The House will then, because of his report, be in a better position to judge the matter.
If I may be impertinent enough to say so, I believe that the mistake made by the Opposition in tabling their motion is that they have prejudged the matter before the House has had a chance to hear the Chairman's views. I hope that the House will regard my suggestion as the best way of proceeding with this matter. We have provided the earliest possible time for the matter to be debated. I recognise the importance of the matter. I hope that following Monday's debate everybody in the House will understand the situation very much better.
Mr. George Cunningham
Is it not a fact that the Committee set up to consider the Abortion Act reflected more or less the vote on Second Reading, much to the annoyance of some hon. Members on this side of the House, and that that decision was approved by many Opposition Members?
My hon. Friend draws attention to one factor in the situation. There are several factors which no doubt gave rise to the decision taken by the Committee of Selection. One matter which did not arise was any representation by Her Majesty's Government. I confirm what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said and repudiate the suggestion made by the Leader of the Liberal Party that there was any rigging whatsoever. I repeat that there are a number of factors to be taken into consideration, and I believe that before the House makes up its mind we should hear what the Chairman of the Committee has to say.
Will the Lord President accept that of course I accept that the votes of the five Labour Members—the four plus the Chairman's casting vote were all coincidentally in the same direction? We accept that no Whip was on and that it was pure coincidence that they all voted the same way. Will the [column 559]right hon. Gentleman ensure that the debate is allowed to go wide enough not merely to deal with the matters that occurred on 28th April but so that he may be able to deal with the composition of the Committee of Selection? Some of us believe that the composition should be representative of the balance of seats in the House rather than merely of the two sides of the House, which at present it is not. The position takes no account of the 36 Members of Parliament who belong to four Opposition parties not represented on the Committee.
Since the debate is to take place on the Adjournment on the recommendation of the Government, there will be a wide opportunity for all such matters to be raised. That is a much better way of proceeding than by way of a debate on the lines of the motion tabled by the right hon. Lady and her right hon. and hon. Friends or, indeed, the amendment tabled by the Liberal Party. I am glad to have a full repudiation from the Leader of the Liberal Party of any possibility of rigging. I hope that that fact will be widely reported.
Will my right hon. Friend consider, as a matter of great urgency, giving time next week for the House to debate the secret payments by BP to political parties abroad? Does he not agree that it is scandalous that the accounts of BP failed to reveal these payments and that the lamentable excuse offered was that company legislation does not require political contributions to be revealed? Does he not agree——
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not state his case. He must ask only whether the House can debate the matter.
May I ask whether we may debate the matter, if not next week, at a very early stage?
I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the matter. I cannot promise a debate. There are some Questions tabled to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for answer on Monday. I suggest that that is the occasion when the House should consider the matter.
May I ask the Leader of the House to read again his own words [column 560]in the debate on the Tuesday before Easter, as reported at column 1219 of the Official Report, and say whether he fully endorses them or wishes to resile from them now that they have become inconvenient? Would it not be quite sufficient for the right hon. Gentleman to allow his hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee of Selection to make a personal statement on this matter? This would then clear it. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that we shall have time to debate the motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and an opportunity to vote upon it?
Concerning the words I used in the debate in reply to the right hon. Gentleman just before the recess, I do not withdraw anything there. I believe that those words were a perfectly correct statement of the Standing Order as it appears in “Erskine May” . I do not withdraw a single word that I said there. Indeed, I believe that it governs the present situation as well. We can debate that matter.
As for saying that it could be dealt with by a personal statement from my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), that is not the position at all. It is a question of the constitutional rights of all Committees of the House. If my hon. Friend catches your eye in the Adjournment debate on Monday, Mr. Speaker, he will, of course, be speaking on behalf of his Committee which has reached this decision. The House of Commons is wrong, in my opinion, in jumping to a conclusion on this matter and in putting motions on the Order Paper without even hearing what my hon. Friend has to say on the question.
As to the right hon. Gentleman's question to me about the possibility of voting on the motion, various Members in different parts of the House will be able to judge whether they wish to proceed with any particular motions. The Government hope that following the discussion we have on Monday, right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition side will be prepared to withdraw their motion. But, if not, the House will have to find time for debate and be able to vote on such a matter. I still feel that the best way for the House of Commons to deal with this matter is to hear what is said in the debate and for all hon. Members [column 561]faithfully to make up their minds on the basis of what my hon. Friend says.
The right hon. Gentleman doubtless means that he will find time for the Opposition's motion to be debated before these Committees start their deliberations.
I fully accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. Therefore, in order to ensure that no Committee shall start under this procedure until the House of Commons itself has been able to decide the matter, I suggest that the Committee that might have started on Tuesday should not start on Tuesday. I think that that has already been indicated to right hon. and hon. Members opposite. It is a perfectly proper way in which to proceed. It would be absurd for the Committees to go ahead while we are still uncertain what the House itself is deciding. Far from denying the House of Commons any right to settle the matter, I am recommending a better way of settling it than that proposed by the official Opposition. Let us listen to the case first before we make the judgment.
Mr. William Hamilton
Before the debate on the matter on Monday, will my right hon. Friend look up the record of the former Leader of the House in the Tory Administration to see how he rigged the Scottish Standing Committees of that day? My right hon. Friend will find an interesting precedent—if precedent it be—on this matter.
On a related subject, will my right hon. Friend explain the delay in the setting up of the Committee concerning the procedures of the whole House, which has been unduly delayed, and also the delay in giving the names of the Royal Commission dealing with the legal profession? I hope that my right hon. Friend will give an undertaking that he has not been got at by the Members of the House who are in the legal profession.
I give my hon. Friend an absolute undertaking that I have not been got at by any section of the House in the sense that he was describing. I agree that we have to deal speedily with the matter of the Committees dealing with the procedures of the House. If the House would give me a little longer to decide how we should proceed, and whether we should have two Committees [column 562]looking into these matters, I should be grateful.
As to the Committee of Selection, I hope that my hon. Friend will not tempt me into making attacks on the opposite side in regard to these matters, but it seems to me that, from the evidence to which he was referring, if he happens to be correct, he has material for his best speech for a long time—and on our side for a change.
Sir J. Langford-Holt
The Leader of the House has emphasised the importance of this issue. He said that it affected the constitutional rights of every Member of the House. In view of that, will he assure the House that there will be no question of any time limit on the debate on Monday evening?
We were suggesting that the Adjournment debate should be for one and a half hours. [Interruption.] The official Opposition can state their own view, but I gather that they did not have an objection to a debate of that character. [Interruption.] If there is any desire for a somewhat longer debate, I am sure that we would take that into account. [Interruption.] Some of my hon. Friends may disagree with me, but I believe that it is right that there should be an opportunity for the House of Commons to discuss the matter properly. If the House of Commons wants a bit longer to discuss the matter, I shall not object.
I have proposed a way of dealing first with what may be said by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). I believe that the atmosphere may be very much changed when Members in all parts of the House are in full possession of the facts. We ought to know the facts before we pass judgment.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us on this side feel that it would be a better use of the hour and a half proposed for Monday night if we were not to debate the decision of the Committee of Selection—which we feel is a sensible decision—but to debate the illegal currency dealings on the Stock Exchange? Will my right hon. Friend and his right hon. Friends agree that we should set up a comprehensive inquiry into this matter and invite the Fraud Squad to investigate it, so that anybody with the idea of leaving this country with [column 563]a suitcase full of cash will know that the Government intend to prevent this happening?
The matter to which my hon. Friend refers is being investigated, and there may be a point at which the House will want to debate it, but I do not think that is a suggestion which can be put into operation on Monday.
I think it is right that the House of Commons should have the opportunity to debate the procedure on which these matters are based so that we may have general agreement about the way in which to proceed. It is better for the House of Commons as a whole that this should be done. What I have suggested is, I believe, a better way of dealing with the matter than that put forward by the official Opposition.
Mr. Gordon Wilson
Will the Leader of the House accept that the selection of Committees is being rigged at the present time in relation to the Scottish Standing Committees? Will he accept that the Scottish Standing Committees do not reflect the representation of Scottish Members of Parliament and that they reflect the English rather than the Scottish representation?
Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman consider that the debate on the motion on Monday should take into account the fact that the SNP's recommendations for Committee membership seem to be disregarded by the Committee of Selection? Would it not be simpler if we debated the subject on a simple motion to discharge the Committee of Selection?
The word “rigged” , as sometimes used in the House, can be understood by hon. Members as a very modest word, but it is sometimes put into the headlines as if it has a stronger meaning. I repudiate entirely the suggestion that the Committee of Selection has in any sense whatsoever been guilty of rigging. I believe that it is very foolish of hon. Members in any quarter of the House to sling around charges of that character. But all the general questions raised by the hon. Gentleman would, I presume, be in order in the debate on Monday.[column 564]
Is the Leader of the House aware that it is outrageous on the one hand to say that this is a major constitutional issue and then to suggest that the House should have only an hour and a half to discuss it, which is roughly the time that we would have for a Prayer against some Statutory Instrument or Order from the Common Market, of which I am sure he would approve? This is not good enough. If it is a major constitutional issue, as many of us believe—and the mere fact that the right hon. Gentleman has deferred the sitting of a Standing Committee indicates that it is—surely he must offer us nothing short of a full day's debate.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has made a sensible proposal about the way that we should deal with this matter. Let us first see what happens when the House is in full possession of the facts, then let us see whether we proceed to a further debate. I have already indicated that if the official Opposition thought, following the debate. [Hon. Members: “When?” ] At a very early stage. It would have to be dealt with very early, and possibly Tuesday would be the best day for dealing with it. But I think that it is absurd for the right hon. Gentleman and others to say that they will pass judgment on the matter before they have even heard what the Chairman of the Committee representing his Committee, has to say on the subject.
When are we to have a further debate on the handling of EEC secondary legislation as my right hon. Friend promised after the recent muddle over the skimmed milk Order?
There is to be one of the periodical debates on EEC legislation within a measurable number of weeks. I am not certain how many weeks exactly, but there will be a debate some weeks hence, and conceivably the matter could be dealt with then.
If we find that there are a great many subjects likely to be involved covering general policy questions in that debate, certainly we shall be prepared to provide a period after 10 o'clock[column 565]—we have to fit it into the general programme—when we could return afresh to the procedural point on which we had discussions before, and that would be as soon as we could arrange it.
May I put two matters to the Leader of the House? First, is the reason for putting on the debate on the Committee of Selection affair late at night that that is the traditional time for doing dishonest deeds? Secondly, when shall we get the promised debate on the proposed increase in school meal charges which was presaged in the White Paper on Public Expenditure, if that still has any validity?
On the hon. Gentleman's second point, no date is fixed for the debate on that Order to take place. But I shall let the House know as soon as we know when the debate is likely to take place. As for the hon. Gentleman's comment about the timing of Monday's debate, I repudiate entirely his suggestion. The fact is that it is the earliest time, apart from the debate on the Finance Bill—and that is also extremely urgent—that the House can debate the matter. Instead of being denounced for it, I should have expected congratulations, even from the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit).
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is customary for changes in prison rules to be debated in this Chamber? Will he therefore give an assurance that there will be a debate on the Floor of the House on Statutory Instrument No. 503?
I cannot give an absolute assurance that we can debate it on the Floor of the House, although I know that that is the desire of many of my hon. Friends. In view of the pressure of time, I cannot give that assurance. It could be debated upstairs. If that is not thought satisfactory, I am afraid that any debate on the Floor of the House will have to be postponed until later.
When does the right hon. Gentleman expect to find time for the debate, which he has accepted to be necessary—it need not be a lengthy debate—on the motion with regard to the use of Standing Order No. 22? [column 566]
[That in the opinion of this House the use of Standing Order No. 22 on 13th April 1976 ought not to be cited or drawn into precedent on any future occasion.]
I have, of course, seen the motion on the Order Paper. As I said when I answered business questions before, I think that it raises an important question. Although I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to reflect on the decision of the Chair, as it stands the motion could be so interpreted. A motion of that character should be either withdrawn from the Order Paper or debated at an early date and removed by such a debate. We are agreeable to an arrangement next week—I suggest Thursday evening—when that issue might be debated. That would enable us to dispose of it speedily. But I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is essential that the House itself should have the chance of dealing with it.
Does my right hon. Friend recall my letter to him last week calling for an inquiry into the Bank of England and the relationship between the Governor and this Government, and also the fixing of the minimum lending rate, together with a debate about the whole question of currency dealing in the City of London? Does he not agree that Monday's debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill is not a suitable occasion for the inclusion of these matters? Therefore, will he urgently fix a time when we can have a full debate on the whole question of currency dealing and the fixing of the parity of the pound?
I recall my hon. Friend's letter to me, and I recognise the importance of all the subjects he has listed, but I cannot promise a speedy debate on the matters. I believe that many of these questions can be raised in the debate on Monday and in some of the subsequent debates that the House will have over the next two or three weeks.
Sir David Renton
With regard to the Committee of Selection, can the Leader of the House explain the rather strange position which has arisen? On the one hand we have a motion tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, supported by her right hon. [column 567]and hon. Friends, a motion of great importance which I think normally would be debated in Government time. On the other hand the Leader of the House says that the House will not be in possession of the facts until we have debated the matter first on the Adjournment. No doubt Oppositions always like two bites at the cherry, which is what we hope to have in view of the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion. But would not it be better to go straight to the point and have a full day's debate on my right hon. Friend's motion?
I have already explained the reasons why I do not believe that to be the best procedure. Others may take a different view, of course. I think it is better that the House should know the facts as reported by the Chairman of the Committee, on behalf of his Committee, before making up its mind. The motion prejudges the issue altogether. I believe that it is better to have the debate in the circumstances and on the basis that we have announced.
Is it true that the Opposition are blocking all changes in the membership of Select Committees until this Standing Committee argument has been settled? Is it also the case that most of those changes result from recent ministerial appointments? If that be the case, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition are trying to secure themselves majorities on Select Committees by rigging them?
I am not aware that such action is being taken by the Opposition. I have not heard about such action. We shall have to see what develops.
Although I am grateful to the Leader of the House, as many right hon. and hon. Members will be, for his promise of a full day's debate on Tuesday on the motion tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, does he not agree that an hour and a half on Monday night for the debate on the statement by the Chairman of the Committee of Selection is wholly inadequate? Does not the right hon. Gentleman want to preserve the last vestiges of his reputation as a parliamentarian?
I do not think that any hon. Member heard me say that I would [column 568]promise a full day's debate on this matter on Tuesday. I think that, probably, the hon. Gentleman himself heard me correctly. I made no such promise. I believe that what I have done is the best way of proceeding. If the House does not like it, we can see what happens afterwards. What we have done is to give the House of Commons a chance to discuss the whole of this matter, quite freely, at the earliest possible opportunity. Instead of being criticised for that, I feel that I should be congratulated.
Mr. John Garrett
When will my right hon. Friend announce the membership, and the start, of the Committee to examine the procedures and practices of the House? Did I gather from his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) that this matter is now being reconsidered by the Government? Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us think that this is a very important matter indeed?
I fully understand the importance which my hon. Friend and many other hon. Members attach to this question. I am just asking for a few more days before we decide how we should proceed on the matter. I am not suggesting that the whole question should be reconsidered but I should like a few more days before I make some statement about it. I hope the House will agree with what we suggest then, but we shall want to reach some more detailed conclusions about it.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Finance Bill on Monday is exempted business which may run well beyond 10 o'clock, to midnight or later? For a major constitutional issue such as this to come up at such a late hour is totally unacceptable. If, as he said, he wants the House of Commons to debate this matter at the earliest possible opportunity, the first possible opportunity is 3.30 on Monday afternoon. Should he not put the debate forward to that time?
I and, I believe, many hon. Members would regard what the hon. Gentleman said as unreasonable—that the House should scrap the Finance Bill debate in order to proceed to this discussion—important though this matter is. [column 569]
I have offered the first available time—apart from the Finance Bill—to the House for this discussion, and I hope the House will listen and ascertain what the situation is before it jumps to any further conclusions.
I do not know what influence my right hon. Friend has in the new Government, but would he consider repeopling the Services Committee because of the oddity of some of its recent decisions? Will he bear in mind that my services are always at the Government's command?
I gather that the latter situation, which my hon. Friend describes, has been the situation in recent weeks. I cannot understand how my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was not fully aware of the fact. It must have been brought to his attention on several occasions. I will certainly take into account what my hon. Friend says about a matter in which he is an expert.
Would the Leader of the House remember that he is the Leader of the whole House and not just acting for the Government? The Committee of Selection is a House of Commons matter, primarily. If he refuses to have a full-scale debate at a proper time and of a proper length, in which the whole House of Commons can take part, he will be defending the indefensible. Will he think again about his decision this afternoon and ensure that we have an early full-scale debate?
I do not see how the hon. Gentleman, or the House, can come to the conclusion which the hon. Gentleman has reached. What I have proposed is to deal with this matter as a House of Commons matter. What the right hon. Lady and her hon. Friends have done is to seek, by their motion, to deal with it on a seek, by their motion, to deal with it on a strictly party basis. I hope that we can escape from that way of dealing with it and deal with it as a House of Commons question.
Mrs. Renée Short
My right hon. Friend's predecessor promised the House on four occasions that the Government's reply to the Select Committee on Expenditure Report on the working of the Children and Young Persons Act would be available shortly. I am [column 570]wondering how shortly is “shortly” . Can he say when that will be forthcoming? We have already had a debate on the subject without the benefit of that reply. As the Prime Minister has chosen to debase the currency of the whole area of the arts by appointing a Minister in the other place, who will reply to Questions on the arts in this House?
On my hon. Friend's last point, I assume, unless I have made an error, that replies to questions about the arts will be made by a spokesman from the Department of Education and Science.
I have no doubt that various spokesmen from the Department of Education and Science would reply on such matters. As for the earlier report to which my hon. Friend drew my attention, I have no further information to add to what has already been said but I will see that she gets an answer shortly—as soon as we can give it.
Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider what he said a few moments ago to the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton)? The Leader of the House—in this respect I do not think that we are interested in who holds that office—promised a statement about the establishment of a sessional Committee on Procedure before Easter. Is he now in a position to say whether a sessional Committee can be set up while the House and the Government give further consideration to the major Committee?
I quite agree that there is an obligation upon me to make as speedy as possible a statement on both these Committees.
Mr. Robin F. Cook
Would the Leader of the House advise the Minister who is to reply to the Army debate next week that some of his hon. Friends were concerned at reports last week that the Secretary of State was seeking arms sales to the Government of South Korea, and that some of us may seek to raise that in the debate in we catch Mr. Speaker's eye? Would my right hon. Friend consider whether a Committee of the House could review the guidelines on arms exports, which are now looking very tatty indeed?[column 571]
I will certainly pass the point on to my hon. Friend. No doubt in the debate my hon. Friend will press the case for a special Committee if he has the opportunity, but I cannot make any promises about a Committee at the moment.
What is the objection to having this afternoon a debate on the decision of the Committee of Selection? Is the Lord President aware that, in view of the record of the Prime Minister as gerrymander-in-chief of the Boundary Commission, the reputation of the Government in this matter is very low already?
I did not think that it was necessary to reply to a foolish and insulting question.
Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his initial reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) in respect of the debate on EEC procedure? Would he not agree that it is in the best interests of this House to separate debates on substance from debates on procedure? A six-monthly sessional debate on EEC policies in general would not be the right time to discuss procedure. Since members of the Scrutiny Committee en bloc have signed an Early-Day Motion on this subject, would this not be a suitable time to have a debate?
I think there is considerable force in what my hon. Friend says about having a separate debate on the procedural aspects. This is what we are inclined to do. I hope that, in the not too distant future, we shall be able to arrange a debate.
Reverting to the question about Monday night, there was some noise on this side, and I am not certain that I got it right. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that we shall initially have a debate on the Adjournment, which may run for longer than an hour and a half, and that, if the Opposition wish, they could then almost claim a proper debate on which we could have a vote, but not on the Adjournment?
On a more interesting matter, has the right hon. Gentleman noticed the two [column 572]motions on the dislike of people in this country for the evisceration of fowl? Since we had an assurance on 26th April 1972 that we need not follow that procedure if we did not want to, may we have a debate on that, too?
I think I have almost always agreed with the hon. Gentleman on the question of the evisceration of chickens, and it would be very melancholy if there were a divergence of interest between us on the subject. That does not mean to say that we can debate the matter next week, whether there is a divergence or not.
What I said was we should have the debate on the other matter on Monday. Our hope naturally is that there should be no further necessity for a debate but if it is believed, by the official Opposition or others, that a further debate is required, I believe that, on a matter of this significance, we would have to provide some time for it.
The right hon. Gentleman said Tuesday.
I said that I thought that a convenient time was possibly Tuesday, again after 10 o'clock—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] I have not suggested in any of the replies that I have given to Conservative Members that we were prepared to disrupt the timetable of next week to have the debate. I believe that the offer I have made to the House is perfectly proper and reasonable. I hope that it will be accepted, but, I repeat, I hope that the Opposition will listen to the case before they press for the judgment to be pronounced.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although he may have got his breath back, he is now galloping away from what he said earlier? Any suggestion that a second debate, if one is considered necessary, should take place at 10 o'clock at night or later is entirely novel and even more unacceptable.
Nothing that I said in my reply a minute or two ago in any way contradicted what I said earlier. I am sure the House will confirm that. What I am suggesting to the House is that we should debate this matter at an early time on Monday. I believe that the House should listen to what is said then [column 573]before it makes up its mind about what it is to do later.
The right hon. Gentleman will recall how he and his colleagues were very liberal in their criticism of former Stormont Administrations for not stemming the tide of unemployment in the Province. Now that this Government, who are directly responsible for employment in the Province, have achieved the greatest number of men and women out of work in Northern Ireland in 30 years, would he arrange a debate to mark this sad occasion? In the meantime, would he persuade the Prime Minister to go to Northern Ireland to meet representatives of the workers?
Questions of unemployment are extremely serious, both in Northern Ireland and in other parts of the country. They have been debated in the House continually and I have no doubt that they will be debated over the weeks ahead. It is not true to say that the hon. Gentleman will not have the opportunity of raising such matters.
Mr. Peter Bottomley
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that one of the arguments used by his right hon. Friends during the West Woolwich by-election last year was that they had to hold the seat so that they could retain control of the Committees? As the hon. Member representing the largest constituency Labour Party in the country, may I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that if there is a debate for an hour and a half on Monday evening, and if one allows 10 minutes to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), there will be less than 10 minutes for each of the other parties in the House?
Some very curious arguments must have been used in the hon. Member's by-election, which must account for his presence in the House. I have no knowledge that any such question was raised. I am sure that the debate will go perfectly well on Monday. I do not believe that it is too much to ask that the House should listen to what is said before pronouncing judgment on it.
Mr. Kenneth Lewis
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the [column 574]Committee of Selection yesterday afternoon discussed this matter—there were not many of us—for over two hours? Therefore, how can an hour and a half on Monday night possibly be adequate for the House of Commons to discuss the same thing?
I hope that we shall be able to get through it in an hour and a half, but perhaps we can proceed a little faster if the hon. Member is a little less talkative than he was in the Committee. That might help the proceedings of the House. Anyway, let us see how the House proceeds to deal with this matter. My experience of the House of Commons suggests that it will pass judgment fairly on what is said and reported to it. It is because I believe that people should weigh the evidence before they reach their conclusions that I have criticised the Leader of the Opposition and her right hon. Friends for rushing in so hastily to put her motion on the Order Paper.