BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
I call Mrs. Thatcher, for the business question.
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 12th July—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.
Afterwards, Third Reading of the Development Land Tax Bill and remaining stages of the Iron and Steel (Amendment) Bill.
Proceedings on the following Consolidation Measures: Fatal Accidents Bill [Lords], Legitimacy Bill [Lords], Lotteries and Amusements Bill [Lords], Restrictive Practices Court Bill [Lords], Restrictive Trade Practices Bill [Lords], Police Pensions Bill [Lords], and Adoption Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 13th July, Wednesday 14th July and Thursday 15th July—Progress on the remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
Friday 16th July—Private Members' Bills.
Monday 19th July—Completion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill, until about 7 o'clock.
Afterwards, motions on Child Benefits Regulations, financial assistance to Kearney and Trecker Marwin Ltd., and the Hill Livestock (Compensatory Allowances) Regulations.
The Leader of the House will be aware that the amended version of the Finance Bill was not available in the Vote Office until this morning. During the Committee stage an unusually large number of undertakings were given by the Government, and we cannot possibly see their amendments until tomorrow. Very large parts of the Bill are substantially to be rewritten and there are new clauses to be inserted following the pay agreement. Could the right hon. Gentleman therefore delay the start of the Bill until a little later next week? At present we have very little time [column 1604]to put down amendments, especially considering that we cannot see until tomorrow what amendments the Government have tabled.
Following representations yesterday by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) on this matter, I looked at the question carefully and we shall do everything we can to overcome the inconvenience to all hon. Members which might arise from our timetable. The Government's new clauses should be available to the House today. Some have already been published, as have some Government amendments. I gather that the traditional situation has been that the first day of the Finance Bill Report stage has been devoted to consideration of new clauses, so I hope that that situation will be all right for the House.
I have looked at previous arrangements, and we want to do everything we can to overcome any inconvenience, but this inconvenience to the House is not a novelty. It arose last year and in some previous years. I can give the figures if the House wants them. All Governments are faced with this kind of difficulty. We shall take the same steps as we took last year and which other Governments have taken to assist hon. Members and to supply them with the amendments and new clauses. Most of the Government's amendments are in response to requests made in Committee. There is nothing novel in what we are proposing. I cannot accept the suggestion that we should delay the proceedings, but we shall do everything in our power to assist the House in dealing with the Bill.
Several Hon. Members
Order. Before I call any Back Benchers, I should remind the House that there has been an abuse of business questions lately. I hope that questions will be directly related to the business next week and will not be used to ride favourite hobby horses.
What are the Government's intentions about the Public Lending Right Bill [Lords] in view of the malarky the other night and the Government's generally muddled handling of this measure?
I do not accept that there was muddled handling by the Government. There was opposition to the Bill [column 1605]from various quarters in the House, but it is a Government Bill and we shall look for another opportunity to get it through.
In the light of the amount of business which is not on the agenda for next week, can the Leader of the House help us by indicating whether he might want the House to sit well into August or to come back in September, bearing in mind that hon. Members with children on school holidays will not fit in readily with such a proposal? In view of the amount of Government business which has been held back or which has capsized at surprisingly early hours of the night, could the right hon. Gentleman justify such an extreme course?
I fully understand that hon. Members on all sides wish to have as early as possible an indication of the times that we shall be asking the House to sit. I shall seek to give that information as soon as possible and I shall take into consideration the points put by the hon. Member. However, I do not accept that any Government legislation has been capsized. It is still floating towards port.
Sir David Renton
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the fact that too short an interval has frequently been allowed in the past between the Committee and Report stages of the Finance Bill and other legislation is no reason to repeat that error for the rest of time? Is he aware that we look to him to see that the situation is improved in accordance with the recommendations made by a committee last year?
I quite agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we want to see the situation improved as much as possible. What is happening this year is an improvement on what has happened in some previous years. I cannot delay the Finance Bill because of these difficulties, but we shall do everything in our power to overcome inconvenience for hon. Members.
Mr. Ioan Evans
Following the publication of the Lonrho Report, may we have a Government statement next week, in view of its grave implications about Rhodesian sanctions and the many other disturbing matters it has raised?
I shall discuss with my right hon. Friends whether a statement [column 1606]should be made on those aspects of the matter, but I cannot make any certain prophecy now.
As the report on young homelessness has been with six Government Departments for several weeks but cannot be included in next week's business, will the Leader of the House take early notice of the need for a debate on this issue before the end of the Session?
A debate before the end of the Session is a possibility. A debate before the Recess is more difficult. I certainly recognise the importance of the report.
Mr. George Cunningham
Is my right hon. Friend proposing that on Monday week the House should address itself to the Child Benefits Regulations only after 10 o'clock? Does he think that one and a half hours, or something like that, after 10 o'clock would be adequate?
We are proposing that the debate should start after 7 o'clock. There will be time for discussion.
Mr. Michael Marshall
On Monday, it is proposed that we should have the Third Reading of the Development Land Tax Bill followed by the Report stage and Third Reading of the Iron and Steel (Amendment) Bill, which will bring a £4,000 million borrowing agreement before the House. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this latter Bill is very important and that seven new clauses were tabled yesterday? Will he reconsider the order of business so that this Bill is not rushed through late at night?
I do not agree that the Bill will be rushed through that late at night. We have to proceed with this measure and I cannot propose an alteration to the timetable. I think there will be sufficient time for the House to give proper attention to this important Bill.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the strong feeling on this side, expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans), that the Lonrho Report should be discussed, as it is a revelation of the unacceptable face of capitalism—against which we are fighting? Does he agree that the slush funds, the country houses and the tax avoidance should be discussed on the Floor of the House so that the nation can criticise [column 1607]them and the trade union movement can see the sort of thing which has been going on in company board rooms for far too long? Could not such a debate be coupled with a discussion on the whole question of company legislation and how it needs tightening?
There is certainly a whole series of extremely important matters of public policy that arise as a result of the report, but I cannot promise an early debate. That does not mean that I do not think that the subjects are important.
With regard to the Finance Bill, is the Leader of the House aware that the Government have effectively withdrawn their proposals for taxing benefits in kind on motor cars, and that this is of major importance to the British motor industry? Government amendments on this subject cannot possibly appear on the Notice Paper until Monday, and the motor industry will certainly not have time to consider them before we debate the matter in the House. Can that be right? Is the right hon. Gentleman not concerned about the motor industry, which wants to see these amendments?
We shall do our very best to ensure that there is as much time as possible for looking at the amendments. However, the hon. Gentleman is among those who should recognise that this is not a new situation.
Reverting to the Child Benefits Regulations, as there is a working party looking at the whole issue might it not be sensible to delay consideration of the Regulations by this House until after the urgent report of that working party?
I think that this concerns part of the Regulations which it would be quite appropriate for the House to proceed to discuss. The working party that is looking at the whole question raises larger and longer-term issues which would no doubt have to be discussed at a later stage.
In order that we may have a better idea how the business next week will run, will the Lord President say whether he will be continuing the practice of the Government packing up and going [column 1608]home at about 1 a.m. when they cannot persuade their Back Benchers to stay here and support them, or shall we be able to go a little later in order to help him to expedite his business through the House?
The objective is not necessarily to stay late. It is to get the necessary examination of the necessary business through. The two requirements go together. We shall, I trust, do both next week.
Does the Leader of the House recall that a week ago he announced that tomorrow we would be discussing both direct elections to the European Parliament and the EEC documents on public service contracts? Despite the fact that there are 59 motions on the remaining Orders of the Day, the motions for tomorrow have not yet been put down. What will they be? Will the Leader of the House assure us that there will be two distinct motions and not an omnibus motion?
If my hon. Friend means an omnibus motion on direct elections, I should have thought that to be a fairly simple matter, whatever amendments may be put to it. I should have thought that that was a satisfactory way to proceed.
Mr. Graham Page
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statements about the Finance Bill are still very unsatisfactory? Is he aware that the Bill as now printed has 11 more clauses and 20 more pages, that in Committee on 97 occasions undertakings were given by the Government to consider matters, and that there were 37 occasions when they were to bring in amendments? Is not this an abuse of legislation and a denial of the right of Members on the Report stage of a Bill?
I reject the exaggerated language used by the right hon. Gentleman. [Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] If that were true, it would apply to previous occasions—for example, in 1972, when there was the same interval that we have had now between the publication of an amended spring Bill and a Report stage, and that happened to be a Bill considerably longer than the present Bill, 30 per cent, larger, and there was a large number of amendments in that case. Many of [column 1609]the amendments on this occasion are amendments put down to be helpful and concessions—so to describe them—made to the Opposition. I should have thought that that made the matter easier rather than harder. In any case, however, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will recall, the House has had difficulties in this respect previously. It is not something created by the present Government. As others have done previously, we shall do our best to assist the House in overcoming those difficulties.
Does the Leader of the House realise that there was absolutely nothing exaggerated in the language used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page)? I hope very much that the Leader of the House will have a look at the facts asserted by my right hon. Friend, as I am sure that he will find them correct. The only point that we found welcome in what the Leader of the House said just now was the reference to a “concession” to be made by the Government. He used that word. I hope that it will be borne out in practice. Does he not realise that, whatever may have been done in the past, that is no excuse for making a bad habit of it. The present Government's creation of bad habits is one of the highest things in productivity known to man.
It is not a matter of the creation of bad habits. All I have said is that the present Government are not responsible for creating them. This Government, like previous Governments, have had pressure on their time in the Finance Bill. There have been similar difficulties previously. We are seeking to overcome them. That is why I said that the language was exaggerated. That does not mean that I do not accept that there are inconveniences for people inside and outside the House if the period is short. We shall take the same kind of measures as have been taken by previous Administrations to try to overcome the difficulties.
Mr. John Mendelson
In view of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment at the end of the two-day debate last night—that he expects in the next few months an increase in the level of unemployment, particularly among school leavers, but that the Government propose [column 1610]to take further measures to alleviate the position—will the Lord President give an assurance that before the Summer Recess the Secretary of State for Employment will make a detailed statement to the House so that we know what those measures are and so that we can debate them and report them to our constituents before we adjourn?
It is certainly the Government's desire that there should be a statement about the measures that we wish to take before we depart for the recess. A debate may be a different matter. These are matters which have figured prominently in the debates that we have had over the past two days and they could figure in further debates. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment indicated that in the debate. However, certainly the statement would be made to the House, and we would do our best to ensure that it was made before the recess.
Sir John Hall
While the Leader of the House may be quite correct in saying that there is nothing new in the short interval between the publication of an amended spring Finance Bill and the Report stage, there are, nevertheless, two quite new aspects in the present Bill. First, we shall be called upon to discuss new clauses which have not appeared before the House at all; secondly, the complexity and far-reaching nature of many of the new clauses and amendments are of such a character that we should have much more time than has been given to us before the debate starts. We should be quite within our rights in asking for five days. We are taking only three days. We might at least postpone the debate so that more time may be given for consideration of the amendments and to decide upon others that may need to be tabled.
As to the time allocated, we all thought and hoped that the Report stage and Third Reading could be taken within the three days. We have gone beyond that and now offered another half-day. Many of these topics would have been in order for discussion not merely in the general debate that we had yesterday but on the two Resolutions. I am not complaining because these matters were not pressed then, but it was not [column 1611]the Government's fault that time was not provided. We provided more time.
Several Hon. Members
I shall call only two more hon. Members for questions on the business, because there is another statement to be made.
Does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House agree with me that it is not an abuse of the House for Back Benchers to exercise a right to raise questions about business arrangements, even though they may not have anything at all to do with next week's business? [Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] In view of that, will my right hon. Friend——
Order. I am sorry that I may not have heard the hon. Gentleman correctly. Was he criticising the Chair? [Hon. Members: “Yes.” ] Will the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to indicate whether he was criticising the Chair?
Yes, Mr. Speaker. What I am attempting to draw from my right hon. Friend—[Hon. Members: “Withdraw!” ]—who is well versed in this matter is whether he agrees with me that it is not an abuse of the House for Back-Benchers, at business question time, to raise matters which are not necessarily connected with next week's business, because it is one of the few opportunities that Back Benchers have of raising matters of this kind.
Order. I am sorry to intervene in the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but that happens to be my responsibility. I have already indicated to the House that I intend to try to keep these questions related to the business for next week. There are plenty of other opportunities that hon. Members can take to raise such subjects.
All I am saying, Mr. Speaker——
Order. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to ask another question?
Order. Not the question he raised previously?[column 1612]
Not that one. Will my right hon. Friend, as Leader of the House, set up an inquiry into the mysterious collection of envelopes that finish up outside the Tory Whips' Office every day and disappear when night comes. Presumably they come from the Tory Central Office, but they bear Mr. Speaker's stamp——
Order. That has nothing to do with the business for next week.
Returning to the Finance Bill, is the Lord President aware that a major new Government clause concerning nationalisation compensation, which is of great importance to all companies in the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, has not yet been tabled? Therefore, would it not be wrong to start on Tuesday with new clauses? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that on the last occasion when there were substantial Government amendments to a Finance Bill—in 1975—we were given five days on Report? Do not we need five days on this occasion?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong in suggesting that there would be any departure from tradition in proceeding with the new clauses as we have suggested. The Government's new clauses and many of the Government's amendments are tabled. If there are further new clauses or amendments to be tabled, we shall make special arrangements to ensure that they are sent specially to hon. Members who wish to have them. That is the arrangement that has been made on previous occasions. I fully acknowledge that the Government must provide papers in good time, but the House should recognise that we have had this difficulty before and that we are seeking to overcome it by methods that have been adopted previously.
Sir G. Howe
The Leader of the House must appreciate that this method of handling financial legislation is doing much to bring the House and those handling its financial business into disrepute. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to put back the Finance Bill from Tuesday next week, because it will be literally impossible for us to have realistic and meaningful consultation with people outside the House about important amendments to clauses that have already been shown to be nonsensical on first consideration in Committee upstairs?[column 1613]
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's use of “impossible” is misplaced. A similar difficulty has arisen on previous occasions. Just as we sought to overcome the difficulties on previous occasions, so we shall again.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is difficult for Back Benchers to seek to raise a point of order with you, Mr. Speaker, because of your personal attributes, which we so much admire, but your advice to us today that we must confine ourselves to the business of next week is somewhat limiting, because we see the Leader of the House only once a week to ask him about the progress of parliamentary business. There is a rising incredulity in the country about how the Government will get their business, and that incredulity is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Time is running out in this Session of Parliament. The days go by, particularly the Thursdays when the Lord President gets away without telling us how the Government will get their business. That is why I ask for a little latitude in pursuing the Leader of the House, who represents all our interests, and in whom we are gradually losing confidence.
Mr. Arthur Lewis
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The long-standing practice of the House for 30 or 40 years if the Leader of the House says that he cannot get certain business in next week is for an hon. Member to ask him to try to get it in the following week. If Mr. Speaker's ruling were strictly enforced, we should be unable to do that. It has been the custom for Speakers to follow precedent, and I am sure you will recollect that on many occasions hon. Members have asked whether it will be possible to take business in the first week after the recess. Would it not be difficult to enforce a strict interpretation of your ruling?
I am grateful to the hon. Members for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), who are both senior Members of the House with long service. I was trying to suggest to the House that questions should be related to the actual business of the House and not to wider matters. What the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said has, of course, [column 1614]long been the practice, which I shall continue.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that we all understand your great difficulties and that you do not wish unduly to curtail the questions put to the Leader of the House on the handling of future business, whether next week or the week after.
Get a hearing aid.
No one needs a hearing aid to be able to hear the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). We hear him without hearing aids, greatly to our misfortune, only too often.
May I say, in the hearing of the Leader of the House, that in the present almost unique jamb of parliamentary business it would be helpful to both sides of the House if the Leader of the House would take an opportunity early next week to make a statement on business for the remainder of the Session?
Mr. Michael Morris
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last Friday you and I and other hon. Members were told that there was to be an emergency Bill dealing with the water supply. Is it not surprising that the Government have made no statement about that?
That is not a point of order, but the hon. Members for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) has been bursting to ask the question.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Am I correct in understanding that the Leader of the House is to take extraordinary measures to inform hon. Members of the substance of new clauses to be added to the Finance Bill which have not yet been put down? Will every hon. Member receive by personal delivery copies of the new clauses which are due to be debated next week?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The measures we are taking are similar to measures taken on previous occasions to ensure that amendments which are put down late can be seen by the hon. Members who wish to see them. That is the procedure which has been followed on previous occasions for the convenience of the House, and that is what we are seeking to do now.[column 1615]
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Lord President gave an assurance that new clauses and amendments which have not yet been tabled will be sent by special delivery to all hon. Members and to outsiders whose interests were directly affected. Will the right hon. Gentleman say how this procedure will operate and what precisely will happen?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I told the House how we should go about it. I did not say that the procedure would be that suggested by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). It would be a mistake to try to do it in that way. We shall try to assist the House in exactly the same way as the Government have sought to do on previous occasions and in the same way as previous Governments have sought to do.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are the guardian of our rights, and the Leader of the House is an enthusiast for the dignity of Parliament. Is it true that there has been no request for a statement about the delay in the production of parliamentary papers? On Friday there were two important debates on Northern Ireland, one on the renewal of the present system of direct rule and the other on emergency powers. As you know, there is a very disturbed and troubled situation in Northern Ireland. Can it be right that Northern Ireland, not to mention Parliament, should be denied access to the proceedings of the House of Commons? Why is there no statement on this matter?
The supply of papers is not my responsibility. It is the responsibility of someone else.
I fully accept that it is the responsibility of someone else. When it is someone else's responsibility, it is usually mine. If there are difficulties about the papers, we shall do our best to overcome them and to see how the difficulties have arisen. The debate on Friday was arranged by the Government in circumstances which I should have thought were most convenient to the House, and there was no criticism then. But I shall see what is the cause of the difficulties and how we can overcome them. As the House knows, once again this is not a novelty.[column 1616]
Several Hon. Members
I draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is a lot of business to be done during the rest of the day. I appeal to hon. Members to make sure in their own hearts as well as in their minds that these are points of order.
Mr. Raphael Tuck
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Every afternoon when we come into the House of Commons at half-past two it is a very cheery House. At four o'clock we are shrouded in darkness. Is that necessary? Can anything be done about it?
If the hon. Gentleman sat on the other side of the House—which he does not wish to do—he might find that he would welcome the blinds.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This might be an appropriate moment at which to ask you whether you will give favourable consideration next week to the selection of starred amendments to the Finance Bill, because we shall probably not see any Government amendments in time to have the amendments unstarred. May I ask you also at this moment if you would take manuscript amendments if it should prove necessary?
Obviously, starred amendments will have to be looked at with sympathy next week on this question because of the time factor. I do not wish to commit myself on manuscript amendments. I never like committing myself too far.
Sir Frederic Bennett
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have searched my conscience and what I am about to raise is a genuine point of order. As far as I am aware, the Leader of the House made reference to Friday's Hansard, which is not available. When I telephoned about it this morning I could not obtain any date at all on which it might ever become available. It is relevant to ask, in the context of the current situation, whether a Hansard will one day be produced and, if so, when.
The hon. Gentleman did not search deeply enough. I explained earlier that the provision of documents was not my responsibility, and this is not [column 1617]the time for questioning the Leader of the House. I am taking points of order.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. To whom should I give my name and address this coming weekend if I wish to receive copies of the amendments and new clauses? Or are all Members to be circulated? Could we be told of the mechanism by which we may know how we shall receive the documents?
I think that is a matter for the usual channels.