BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Business Statement—Mrs. Thatcher.
May I ask Michael Footthe Leader of the House to state the business for the first week after the recess?
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
The business for the first week after the Adjournment will be as follows: [column 2124]
Monday 11th October—Debate on the Green Paper on a proposed new high-way code.
Motion on the Counter-Inflation (Price Code) Order.
The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed Private Business for consideration at seven o'clock.
Tuesday 12th October and Wednesday 13th October—Remaining stages of the Health Services Bill.
Thursday 14th October—Report and Third Reading of the Electricity (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill and of the Maplin Development Authority (Dissolution) Bill [Lords].
Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Armed Forces Bill.
Resumed debate on Second Reading of the Public Lending Right Bill [Lords].
Remaining stages of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill.
Friday 15th October—Remaining stages of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill.
Second Reading of the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Bill [Lords].
The Leader of the House must be aware that the number of Government Bills and Orders on the Order Paper at this stage of the Session is unprecedented and that we have not had time to debate a host of things such as foreign affairs. There are also seven official Opposition Prayers which we have not had time to take. Would the Leader of the House say what he has in mind in respect of these matters when we return?
We shall certainly do our best to accomodate as many of these matters as we can, as we always do. We have made very good progress with the business of the House, despite the prophecies that things would go wrong. I am sure that we shall make further good progress when we return in October.
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that a Prayer has been placed on the Order Paper against the Government's Poultry Meat Order, and may we have an assurance that there will be adequate time for this order to be debated as soon as we return from the recess?[column 2125]
I am sure that is a matter that the House will wish to discuss.
Will the Leader of the House say why a Private Member's Bill, namely, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, has been given Government backing and priority over another Private Member's Bill—the Licensing (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill? Is this not a breach of the long-established custom of this House? Might I add that I am not particularly in favour of either of these two Bills and that I am not therefore making a case in respect of either but merely drawing attention to the way in which the Government behave towards Private Members' legislation.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman was raising the matter with his usual objectivity and impartiality. I would only say to him that there have been precedents in the not so distant past when a Government have given assistance to a Private Member's Bill. Many representations have been made to me that we should assist with this Bill and we are providing time for the House to discuss it on the Friday when we return. The Government have not given preference over some other Bill but an opportunity has been given for the Bill to be discussed.
Mr. Clement Freud. Mr. Andrew Faulds.
May I simply pay the Leader of the House——
Order. I apologise to both hon. Gentlemen.
I take that in the spirit in which it was not given. May I simply thank the Leader of the House for having kept his word about bringing back the Public Lending Right Bill in the hangover part of our Session at the end of the holidays?
Mr. Ronald Bell
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill is a controversial measure and to put it on at the end of a long stream of Bills, which means that it must be discussed in the early morning, is most inappropriate?
I hope that we shall reach the Bill earlier than that. We certainly think that the other items which have [column 2126]been put down for that Thursday need not take a great deal of time. I hope that there will be adequate time to discuss the Bill and, indeed, that the House will be prepared to reach a decision that night.
On Monday 11th October does the opposed Private Business relate to the consideration of the Cromarty Petroleum Order Confirmation Bill? If it does, will the Leader of the House recognise that besides the Scottish Office it is important that we have a Treasury Minister to explain precisely what the Treasury obligations are if the Bill is passed, and particularly whether there will be an automatic grant of between £30 million and £40 million of public money? May we have an opinion from an energy Minister whether it is true that refining capacity in this country is working at 60 per cent. and is likely to do so until the 1980s? In the absence of that kind of information it will be very difficult to reach a sensible judgement inn respect of the Bill.
I am quite sure that many of my hon. Friends will be required to deal with my hon. Friend and others, but I will certainly see that the information is passed to them so that they will take it into account.
Sir David Renton
With regard to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill on 15th October, are we to understand that the Government themselves are taking on this Bill and, in effect, making it a Government Bill and putting on the Whips on that occasion?
We are giving an opportunity for the House to decide upon this matter and I would have thought, in view of the history of the Bill, and what has been said about it by hon. Members in all parts of the House, that this is a civilised way in which to proceed.
Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Would my right hon. Friend consult his right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, and everyone else whom it may be desirable to consult, with a view to ensuring that when the Public Lending Right Bill comes back for its completion of the Second Reading there are enough hon. Members in the House to make sure that the debate reaches its conclusion on that occasion?
I think that my hon. Friend, having been given due notice of the continuance of the Bill, would agree that [column 2127]we have made quite a lot of progress with the Bill already. There has been a lot of time for discussion and I hope that we shall reach a conclusion and that there will be enough hon. Members to ensure that it goes through.
May I raise a question about today's business and relate it to the first week when we come back? On the Order Paper, items Nos. 3 and 4 are two instruments to be “decided forth-with” . Should they not normally be taken immediately after this point of time in our proceedings and not at the end of the day? Should they not therefore be moved to October and then taken immediately, because we do not want to decide these things forthwith perhaps very late at night?
I think they are down on the Order Paper in the normal way and we must proceed with them on the basis that they are there.
Mr. Christopher Price
Has my right hon. Friend seen the Government's rather tendentious reply to the Select Committee on Cyprus yesterday? During the hangover period could he find just a little time in which this important matter, on which there are differences of opinion—70 hon. Members have signed an Early-Day Motion supporting the Select Committee—could be debated by the House?
[That this House gives a general welcome to the report of the Select Commitee on Cyprus; considers it has highlighted some major failings in foreign policy; and believes that Great Britain, as a guarantor power and fellow member of the Commonwealth, has a special responsibility to work for a free and independent Cyprus.]
I would not call it a hangover period. I would rather call it a spillover period—and there may be other names applied to it. There may be an opportunity for a discussion of foreign affairs during that period. I am not certain yet, but I should have thought that, if so, that would be the opportunity for this matter to be raised.
Following on the question of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit),[column 2128] the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the principle of selecting one Private Member's Bill and giving it preference and Government time over others is a thoroughly bad principle, even if it is one which has been adopted in the past? For example, the Licensing (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill is the first Order of Private Member's Bills at the moment. Why should not that be given time rather than the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill?
I understand the concern which some hon. Members have expressed on this question. As a general rule, the Government should not intervene in this way. But when hon. Members consider the discussions which had taken place on the Bill and when they hear the representations which have been made about it, I believe that they will agree that it is a perfectly proper thing to do. It has been done before. Some of the Bills which have later become fully accepted by the country and have contributed to the general welfare of our society have been subject to this procedure, and we are applying the same principle again.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill affects the safety of women, a matter which has been inadequately discussed, whereas the Licensing (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill has already been discussed for a very long time? I am sure that women will applaud my right hon. Friend for his action in this matter.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, naturally enough, but I also hope that hon. Members, whatever criticism they may make of the Government or of me in making this arrangement, will judge the Bill itself on its merits. I believe that the more the House applies its mind to the Bill and its merits, the speedier will be its passage.
Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there will be early debates on three important reports or consultative documents to do with the Department of the Environment—namely, on water, transport and local government finance? Is he aware that there is particular resentment about the delay in having a debate on transport?
I am sure that no one is more eager to have those debates than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.[column 2129]
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Shore)
Of course we should like to have debates on all those matters. Whether we can have them during the period in October I cannot be sure. Transport is certainly a very strong candidate for a debate, and I know that we are committed to debates at some stage on the other matters as well.
Mr. Ioan Evans
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the early hours of this morning, in the debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, a request was made by both Front Bench spokesmen for an early debate on the Lonrho Report? Since this affair was once referred to by the former Conservative Prime Minister as the unacceptable face of capitalism, and since the mask has been removed, should not the House soon debate this subject so that it may fully understand the implications?
Although I was not present, I understand that there was a very interesting debate on this subject a few hours ago. Whether everyone who took part in that debate would wish to have a further debate on the matter I am not sure, but certainly we should be happy that there should be some further opportunity eventually to discuss the matter. However, I certainly cannot promise that it will happen immediately we come back.
Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
Would the right hon. Gentleman look again at what he has three times said today about the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill? Would he not at least agree that it would be fair, as the Licensing (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill is down as first on the list, that he should put the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill second on the list, as it was not a named Bill for that day? In this way he might succeed in having the Bill judged on its merits, whereas if he tried to foist the Bill on the House in advance of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who had the courtesy to name a date, it might not be judged on its merits.
I hope that no hon. Member will say in advance of discussion of that Bill on that Friday that he is not prepared to discuss it on its merits. That [column 2130]would be disrespectful to the House of Commons. I therefore hope that the matter will be discussed on its merits, whatever the criticisms may be about the way in which we have arranged it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) said, I thought that what we were doing was meeting the wishes certainly of most of my hon. Friends and, I should have thought, of many hon. Members opposite for another such arrangement.
I think that you will recall, Mr. Speaker, that when I raised the subject earlier, you said that the subject of International News Services and its representations on behalf of Bristol Channel Ship Repairers were to be referred to an appropriate Committee. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has considered the matter and whether he would care to make a comment about it, particularly as the Bill involved is going through the House of Lords. We would all hope that the scenes of intimidation and pressure that we witnessed before hand will not be repeated in the Upper House.
Following my hon. Friend's question, I have made inquiries. We now consider that the most appropriate Committee to consider this matter is the Services Committee, which was one of the suggestions made. I will take steps to ensure that it is considered at a very early date, particularly in view of my hon. Friend's suggestion about the menace to the incorruptibility of the other place.
Mr. Kenneth Lewis
When we come back would the right hon. Gentleman look at this problem and make a statement on it. It arose during Prime Minister's Questions today. It has on a number of occasions been said that Oppositions and Back Benchers are dissatisfied with the answers of Ministers and Prime Ministers, but today is the first time that a Prime Minister has said that he is dissatisfied with his own Question Time and that he did not take it seriously. The difficulty, which has risen many times in the past, is that Back Benchers just cannot put straightforward Questions to the Prime Minister. Will he now discuss with the Prime Minister the possibility of improving the kind of Questions that we put to his right hon. Friend so [column 2131]as to prevent this practice and the putting of secondary questions afterwards?
I am sure that the Prime Minister would be grateful for any improvement in the Questions put to him but the form in which those Questions are put has been discussed a number of times by the Select Committee on Procedure. If the present Committee would wish to look at the matter afresh and devise some other way in which we might avoid the kind of all-embracing Questions which have to be put down so as to enable certain matters to be raised, it might be helpful. But the Committee has looked at this on previous occasions and has not been able to propose any better arrangement than we have now.
Several Hon. Members
I propose to allow three more questions from each side and then there is a statement.
Mr. Raphael Tuck
Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 563 entitled “Cars for the Disabled” in my name and the names of 70 of my hon. Friends and one Liberal Member? Is he aware of the grave concern of the disabled about these matters and can he give us any hope that in the not-too-distant future we can have a debate? [That this House whilst appreciating what the Under-Secretary of State for Social Services has done for disabled people, is concerned at the Government's decision to phase out invalid tricycles without replacing them with another vehicle, as this may compel disabled drivers to give up their jobs; and requests the Government seriously to consider the continued supply of cars to the physically handicapped, thus providing them with assistance which is realistic.]
I cannot promise a debate in the week we come back, but I will consider the representations of my hon. Friend and of my hon. Friends who signed that motion.
Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there is considerable disquite in the fishing industry that he has not yet found time to have a debate on that matter? Is he aware that by the time we come back it is likely that the [column 2132]fishing limits will have been decided by our EEC partners? Can he assure the House that there will be an early opportunity to debate those decisions?
If any agreements are reached on the subject in the negotiations, there will obviously be a report to the House and the possibility of discussion. Many representations have already been made to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, and many deputations have visited him to present views on the subject, so I am sure that he is aware of the opinions held in many parts of the House.
Mr. Greville Janner
Does my right hon. Friend expect the ACAS codes on disciplinary procedures and the disclosure of information to be laid before the House, if not in the first week, before the end of this Session?
I hope before the end of the Session, but I prefer to verify the matter.
If we are to squeeze in debates on various White Papers and other topics as well as the tail end of various Bills during the spillover of the Session, is the Leader of the House yet in a position to estimate when the Session will end?
I should not like to give an exact date, but, as I have said, we are making reasonable progress. We have quite a lot of work to do when we come back on 11th October. We have some of the matters which I have already mentioned for the first week, and we have some Bills to conclude, but we have already made better progress than some people forecast, and I am sure that that happy progress will continue.
As the promoter of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, I thank my right hon. Friend for providing time to enable the House to come to a conclusion on it. Is he aware that the Bill has all-party support in the House, and would it not be in the best traditions of the House if we were to consider it on its merits, not on the basis of bias?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that when the Bill comes forward on that Friday the whole House will discuss it on its merits.[column 2133]
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the report by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on financing the arts to be printed and debated in the spillover period?
I shall have to look at that. I cannot make any promises.