BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
May I ask Michael Footthe Leader of the House 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 10th May—Until about seven o'clock, remaining stages of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
Afterwards, completion of the remaining stages of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
Tuesday 11th May—Progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.
Wednesday 12th May—Supply [20th Allotted Day]: there will be a debate on the Royal Navy, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Motion relating to the National Freight Corporation (Commencing Capital Debt) Order.
Thursday 13th May—Further progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.
Friday 14th May—Private Members' Bills.
Monday 17th May—Progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.
I should like to put two points to the Leader of the House. First, has he any information on appointments to Standing Committees, which we debated on Monday evening? Will he put down a motion on the Order Paper or provide time to debate our motion?
Secondly, as it looks as if we shall be here for some time yet, when will he provide a day to debate Denis Healeythe Chancellor's statement of yesterday? I presume that it will be before the Whitsun Adjournment.
Yes—and, I dare say, before the General Election, too. [column 1473]
I hope to be able to put down a motion on the Order Paper relating to the Committee of Selection, which we debated on Monday, before the House rises tonight. There have been discussions through the usual channels, as was suggested, and through some of the unusual channels in the sense of discussions with representatives of other parties.
On the second matter, I have no suggestion for a debate at the moment, but I have no doubt that an opportunity will arise in the fairly near future. I have no immediate suggestion to make for a debate on that matter.
Mr. George Cunningham
When may we expect a motion to be tabled for the creation of the proposed Committee on the reform of the procedures of the House of Commons, which appears to have been delayed for some time?
I apologise to my hon. Friend and to the House for the delay. I hope that a motion on the ordinary sessional Procedure Committee will be tabled today and that, within a short time, we shall have the other motion on the other Procedure Committee.
Sir David Renton
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it will be convenient to hon. Members and, indeed, right hon. Members to know the date of the Whitsun Recess as soon as possible?
I hope to be able to tell the House the date for the Whitsun Recess next week.
Sir G. de Freitas
Is my right hon. Friend aware that over the last 20 years the attention of the House has frequently been called to the predictable water shortage in the East Midlands and East Anglia? Will he discuss with the Opposition the possibility of providing a day for a debate on water supplies and the Government's Green Paper?
I am prepared to have discussions with the Opposition to see whether they can provide any time. I will also discuss with my hon. Friend whether any statement should be made on the subject.
Mr. John Davies
The Leader of the House will be aware that, as a result of [column 1474]the withdrawal of the Government's Weights and Measures Bill, the issue regarding metrication has been in some confusion. The truth is that hon. Members on both sides of the House will find it convenient to have a debate on this subject in order to ventilate the admittedly divergent viewpoints which exist. Will the right hon. Gentleman find an early date for a debate on the basis of the directive which has been recommended by the Select Committee on European Secondary Legislation?
I cannot promise the right hon. Gentleman an early debate, but I will look at the possibilities and let him know as speedily as I can.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that on 3rd November last an undertaking was given by the then Leader of the House to table a motion to allow Committees upstairs to discuss EEC documents for more than an hour and a half? Will he table the necessary changes to Standing Orders and tell the House when we may have the debate on EEC procedure which he conceded last week?
I am well aware of the Government's commitment in the debate on 3rd November.
I very much hope that we shall be able to have a debate on EEC procedure the week after next.
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the question of how many Ministers will be abroad on public business during the business of the House next week? Is he aware that it is widely felt that it is not in the interests of the House or the country that Ministers should be brought back from doing their public business when pairs are available?
There was some difficulty about pairs, but we had to overcome it. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should have some assistance in overcoming that difficulty, I am grateful to him for that offer. We shall do our best.
Mr. Donald Stewart
Will the Lord President tell the House what progress has been made towards the introduction of Bills for the setting up of Assemblies in Scotland and Wales? Is he in a position to tell us the likely date for the introduction of those Bills?[column 1475]
We are making great progress in discussing the Government's plans for proceeding as fast as we can with the devolution commitment, to which we are attached. There is no wavering on this matter. We shall proceed to deal with it as fast as we can in a proper way.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the interest of the House in the Third World concentrated on the UNCTAD conference in Nairobi. In arranging the programme before Whitsun, will he endeavour to provide adequate time for the House to discuss any consequences flowing from that conference?
We have not much time left before Whitsun. We have next week and a couple of weeks after that. Therefore I cannot make any promises about extra debates in that time. My hon. Friend and others will have to look for other opportunities of raising these matters.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that two years have elapsed since the report on young adult offenders by the Home Office Advisory Council on the Penal System, since when this House has not had an opportunity of debating it? Will he honour the undertaking given by his predecessor that we shall have such an opportunity in the near future?
I will look at the undertaking that was given and do my best to execute it.
Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
In addition to securing pairs for Ministers, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is even more important to ensure pairs for Members who are seriously ill and that it is deplorable that sick Members should be forced to come to the House for Divisions? I think that the country at large also deplores that practice.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that there are better ways for the House to deal with pairing arrangements than were adopted a few days ago. We may have further discussions about the situation.
Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
Will the Leader of the House consult the Foreign Secretary to see whether it is possible for him to make a statement about the recent [column 1476]talks between Guatemala and the British Colony of Belize?
I have not been able to consult the Foreign Secretary in the last day or two because he is rather a long way away from this country. It might be rather expensive to get in touch with my right hon. Friend by international telephone. I shall take the opportunity of contacting him on an ordinary direct line when he returns to this country.
In view of the concern felt by many people about the non-implementation of the disabled housewives' benefit, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to made on the delay?
I shall look into the possibilities of an early statement on that subject.
Would it be unbearably impertinent—[Hon. Members: “Yes.” ]—I thought it would be regarded as impertinent by some Labour Members—to ask whether the House will have an opportunity to discuss the Government's proposed wage deal with the TUC before the special conference takes place?
I am not saying anything about the timing of such a debate—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] Would it be unbearably impertinent of me to suggest that if the Opposition really want an urgent debate on the agreement reached yesterday between the Government and TUC representatives, they could have such a debate this coming Wednesday in Opposition time?
Mr. David Price
Following the earlier exchange on agricultural matters, will the right hon. Gentleman and his governmental colleagues consider setting up a Select Committee on the subject of rabies? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the matter, because I do not expect him to make an announcement now.
In that case I shall satisfy the hon. Gentleman's expectations.
The right hon. Gentleman enunciated a novel idea when he suggested that yesterday's important Government announcement should be debated in Opposition time, which is an odd state of affairs. I hope that he will [column 1477]provide Government time for the matter to be debated at an early date.
I should like to welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement about a debate on EEC procedure. I hope that he will take the opportunity afforded by that debate to announce the arrangements by which the House may question Ministers when they return from important meetings abroad. There are currently about 42 documents approved by the Scrutiny Committee for debate—documents which have not been discussed upstairs, downstairs or anywhere else.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also remember what he said just before Easter on the subject of the situation regarding skimmed milk and protein. We have now reached an absurd situation and it should be cleared up as soon as possible.
I think that I have already replied to a point made on that matter by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). In the week after next we shall be able to debate EEC topics, and all these questions, including the subject mentioned by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), can be discussed.
On the subject of a debate on the agreement reached yesterday, I was not suggesting that it should take place in Opposition time. I was merely asking whether it would be unbearably impertinent to suggest that, if the Opposition were so passionately eager to have a debate on the subject, they could arrange for such a debate next week on their own insistence.
Mr. Gwynfor Evans
In view of the recent series of fatal crashes involving low-flying aircraft, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the House to be given a statement on that subject?
I shall see whether a statement can be made on the matter, and I shall look into the possibility of one being made next week.
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify what he said a moment ago? Will he assure the House that before the TUC special conference is held there will be a debate in Government time on the economic package?[column 1478]
I have nothing further to say about a debate on that subject. I am sure that the House will wish on a number of occasions to debate the various issues arising from yesterday's statement. Discussions on the Budget are now taking place in the House, and the House will no doubt discuss these matters before a decision is reached. There are various other aspects of the matter and, if it is desired to have some other more general debate, we shall consider the situation. But I have made no statement about the situation today.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton
In the interests of democracy, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the situation of the 60 per cent. of working people who are not represented by trade unions? Does he not agree that the situation as it affects them should be discussed in the House at an early date? Will he treat with more urgency the request made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for the House to have a full-day's debate on yesterday's statement?
If there were such urgency about the matter, I am sure that the Opposition would have used their own time.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton
I am referring to the 60 per cent. of people who are not represented.
I agree that the interest of all people should be represented in our debates. There will be many opportunities for discussion of those interests through our deliberations on the Budget.
Do the Government propose to publish a White Paper giving far more details of the agreement—and, if so, when will it be issued?
No decision has yet been made to publish a White Paper, although it is a possibility.
It is usual.
The right hon. Lady says it is usual to do so. I would merely say that it is a possibility. The Government will have to consider whether it is advisable to do this in the form of a White Paper or by means of a statement to the House. So far, no decision has been made about publishing a White Paper.[column 1479]
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the continuing anxiety in the West Midlands about unemployment and the future of industry and of the fact that the county council has demanded further information. In those circumstances, will he refer these matters to the Regional Affairs Committee for full discussion?
The Regional Affairs Committee can debate these matters, and we should have no objection if it wished to do so.
Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed the increasing abuse by Ministers, particularly by the Secretary of State for Energy, in using civil servants to make party political, controversial and contentious speeches abroad on behalf of Her Majesty's Government? Is this not a dangerous development in view of the impartiality of civil servants, who are not accountable to this House? Will he at an early date make a statement setting out the Government's criteria on this matter?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has done nothing improper. What happened last week was that a statement which was to be made by the Minister of State, Department of Energy, at a conference abroad was not made because the Minister, in the middle of that conference, had to return to this country to attend to his parliamentary duties. There was no departure from normal practice.
Does the Secretary of State realise that he is being unbearably impertinent to the institution of Parliament in the evasiveness of his answers about the possibility of Members of Parliament being able to debate the agreement between the TUC and the Government?
The House of Commons has had a number of occasions on which to discuss these matters during the Budget debates. Furthermore, there will be continuing opportunities to discuss these matters in the proceedings on the Finance Bill. I have no doubt that the House will desire to have a more general debate at some stage—[Hon. Members: “When?” ] If hon. Members opposite feel that the matter is so urgent, they should make representations to the Leader of the Opposition. The simple [column 1480]answer is that if the Opposition wanted such a debate, they could arrange for it to take place next Wednesday.
Is the Leader of the House aware that there is growing anxiety among hon. Members on both sides of the House about the current negotiations on the old Commonwealth sugar agreement between the Common Market and the cane sugar producers. The talks have broken down because the Common Market appears to have made a mean offer within the terms of the Lomé agreement? May we have a statement next week by the responsible Minister, so that Parliament may know what is taking place on our behalf in the Common Market?
I am not sure what stage the discussions have reached. I shall speak to my right hon. Friend to see whether a statement on the subject would be appropriate according to the general arrangements for reports to be made to the House.
The hon. Gentleman's predecessor was sympathetic on four occasions to the suggestion of a debate on the Bullock Report. It is now well over a year since the Committee reported. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider giving us an early opportunity to debate the report, which is a very important document for the education world?
I cannot promise an early debate, but I shall certainly look at what the hon. Member has said.