BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
May I ask Michael Footthe Lord President of the Council to state the business of the House for the rest of the Session?
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
The business on Monday 22nd November and, if necessary, Tuesday 23rd November will be consideration of Lords amendments.
If there is time on Monday, there will be a debate on regional policy, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
I hope that that satisfies the right hon. Lady. I do not know whether she wished me to make a further statement about tomorrow's business, but I gave some indication of that last week.
I am not quite satisfied with that reply. I wonder whether the Leader of the House would reconsider having a debate on regional policy on Monday? It seems rather casual treatment of an important subject to have it “only if there is time” . Could we not have the usual motion on the Adjournment upon which hon. Members may raise their own subjects?
If the right hon. Lady makes that representation I shall certainly consider it and see whether, by discussion through the usual channels, an alternative subject might be selected for Monday. We are certainly not treating that subject as unimportant, and I am sure that we shall return to it in some other way in the new Session. But if the Opposition wish to have further discussion about a possible subject to be discussed on Monday, I shall be glad to discuss it through the usual channels.
Mr. Arthur Lewis
Knowing the Lord President of the Council's great interest in questions of freedom and democracy, may I ask him, as a former editor of the Evening Standard, whether he is of the opinion that a debate is necessary to ascertain why Ministers are not prepared to take any action, knowing that there [column 1573]are traitors to the country who are not being prosecuted—action which would have enabled them to answer either in open court or in camera, when they are having their liberties taken away? Will the Lord President allow time for a debate on the general issue of freedom of information, the right of the people to know and an opportunity for these people to be heard, either in camera or in open court?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who have underlined the importance of this subject. It would be an abandonment of our allegiance to proper liberal principles if the House did not show an interest in such questions. But my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already stated the situation in these cases and has informed the House of representations that can still be made. If the House at some later date wished to discuss the matter, it would be for the House to see how it could be raised. I suggest that the procedures which the Home Secretary has already outlined are those which were laid down by the House to deal with those questions and that we should use those procedures first.
Sir David Renton
What is the point of our having a debate on regional policy on Monday without the House having been presented with the Government's White Paper on the constitutional future of the English regions?
There are many aspects of regional policy which can be, and are, debated in the House constantly, irrespective of any proposals for devolution. Many questions have been discussed in meetings of the Regional Affairs Committee and I am sure that many hon. Members, especially my hon. Friends, would find many questions to raise on regional matters. We thought it a convenient time to have that debate. But if Opposition Members and other hon. Members wish to have discussions about that subject, we are prepared to do so, but hon. Members on this side of the House will certainly wish to return to full debates on regional policy at an early date.
There is some doubt how tomorrow's business will work out. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gen[column 1574]tleman will confirm that first we have six hours allotted to the Health Services Bill and that thereafter we deal with messages from the other place on the Education Bill? How long will they be expected to take?
It could be—it is certainly our understanding—that the first business tomorrow will be the discussion on the messages we receive from the other place on the Health Services Bill, and that will be for six hours under the timetable motion agreed by the House. If we receive any other messages from the other place on the Education Bill, they will be considered after that period, with the possibility of a three-hour debate. We hope that we shall not receive such messages and that the other place will accept the Education Bill.
In view of the curtailment of discussion on the important matter of the deportation by the Home Secretary of two persons, one of whom, Mr. Hosenball, is known to me, will my right hon. Friend provide time for the debate on the iniquitous procedure under the 1971 Act, whereby unspecified charges are brought by anonymous persons and the person accused has no way of knowing what the charges are or who is making those charges, and has no legal representation? Is my right hon. Friend aware, and will he convey to the Home Secretary, that many could vouch for the complete integrity of that journalist and would demand a debate on the Floor of the House in order to discover who has lied and given false information about him?
There was no question of any curtailment by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, because the matter of how many questions are to be put in this House is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and you exercised your authority on that subject.
I have nothing to add to what I said before. What the Home Secretary described are the next procedures laid down and accepted by this House for dealing with these problems. If, after those procedures have been dealt with, the House wishes to discuss the matter, representations may be made for the House to consider whether it is desirable to discuss the subjects that have been raised by my hon. Friend and others. [column 1575]
I am not surprised, and I do not think that any Member of the House should be surprised, or indeed regretful, that the House wishes to consider these matters very carefully.
Does the right hon. Gentleman think it reasonable to invite hon. Members to prepare for a debate on the important subject of regional policy which he acknowledges might not take place? Would it not be better to allocate the time to unfinished Government business, namely, the Public Lending Right Bill?
We may deal with some unfinished Government business on Monday. We should be very happy if all the unfinished Government business could be concluded without our meeting on Monday, but I do not think that that is likely.
We proposed to have a debate on regional policy, and we thought that was a reasonable proposition, but if that is thought inadvisable in other parts of the House we are prepared to have discussions about it.
The Public Lending Right Bill is supported by the Government and by the official Opposition and, indeed, by the House of Lords. It is of importance to many people in the country, and it has certainly commanded the support of those in this House who have given real thought to the subject. It is a tragedy that such a Bill should be lost, but, in view of our experience on the measure, I do not believe that if we put it down for consideration on Monday, as is suggested, we could deal with it successfully then. When we come to the next Session, we shall have to consider how we can revive the Bill and ensure that it reaches the statute book.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fate of the Public Lending Right Bill reflects very gravely on the procedures of the House? The Bill was given a Second Reading without opposition. No one voted against it. It was debated for seven hours on Second Reading, for 21 hours in Committee and for nine hours on Report, yet we cannot find the time to get it through, even though we succeed in getting other more controversial legislation passed. Can some measures be taken to improve the procedures in these matters?[column 1576]
I repeat that I am as sorry as anyone—I hope that I may declare my interest—that the Public Lending Right Bill has not become an Act in this Parliament. Certainly it was the Government's desire it should be passed. However, it was prevented from reaching the statute book on this occasion because some hon. Members exercised their right, under our present procedures, to continue debates. One of the arrangements that we have in this House means that a few Members can, if they wish, seek to obstruct the passing of a measure. It is most deplorable that it should have been done in this case, but when we return to the subject, as I trust we shall in the next Session, the House will have to consider whether it wishes to proceed under the normal arrangements or to have a timetable motion.
Mr. St. John-Stevas
The responsibility for losing the Public Lending Right Bill rests principally on the Government for introducing it so late in the Session.
In view of the importance of any message that may come from the House of Lords on the Education Bill—I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have no more knowledge than he has on whether a message will come—it will be most inconvenient to consider it late on a Friday after all the other business. If a message comes, the Bill should be taken on Monday.
I am sure that we have time to get the Education Bill through successfully. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to assist us in the matter, he might use his influence with the House of Lords to ensure that we get no message on the subject. That would be of great assistance and would ensure that the Bill went through. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give us his assistance on the matter, particularly as he now tells us that he has no knowledge whether we are likely to have any message of that character.
The hon. Gentleman says that the responsibility for the failure of getting the Public Lending Right Bill on to the statute book rests with the Government. I do not accept that. The Government made a number of efforts to have the matter discussed and brought to a conclusion. Had we received the fullhearted support of the hon. Member for [column 1577]Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) on some occasions, we might have had a better chance of doing so.
In view of the apparent unholy alliance between the Conservative and Liberal Oppositions, having looked at the voting record of the Liberals over the past 12 months and bearing in mind their interest in regional affairs, as well as my own interest in the subject, may I ask my right hon. Friend to consider bringing the House back on Sunday to discuss this important subject, with double time for hon. Members who attend?
If we made that proposition I am not sure that we should not get into trouble with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on public expenditure grounds.
Most people will be glad that national security decisions are in the hands of the Home Secretary rather than the Group of Ten, but is the Lord President nevertheless aware that the question of individual freedom raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) is a serious and current topic, particularly in view of the deprivation of rights being experienced by many people especially in the nationalised industries over the imposition of the closed shop? Will the Lord President consider the request of his hon. Friend for an early debate on individual liberty?
This subject is discussed constantly in this House in reference to certain Bills and measures and that is the best way for it to be dealt with.
Will my right hon. Friend note that the proceedings of the North-West Regional Affairs Committee yesterday terminated against the wishes of a substantial majority of Labour Members? Does he agree that if, in future, we are to have discussions of the affairs of a specific region, they should be of a longer duration than yesterday? Further, will my right hon. Friend agree to put down a motion on a specific subject affecting that region and ensure that a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for that subject is present to reply to the debate?[column 1578]
I know that there was a mishap in that Committee and that as a result the arrangements that the Government had sought to make to assist in getting the time for the discussion that we had hoped to provide did not prevail. I am sorry that that occurred, but it was not the Government's fault. Of course I think it is desirable that, where possible, Cabinet Ministers should be available at such debates, but it is not always possible. That must be taken into account, particularly when many meetings take place towards the end of a Session and it is not always possible to fulfil that obligation. That is why there are other Ministers fully capable of dealing with these questions.
Mr. Stephen Ross
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Early-Day Motion No. 109 dealing with the import of whale products?
[That this House is of opinion that the Government should impose a ban on the import of sperm whale products in this country and take all other practical steps to impose a moratorium on whaling for a period of 10 years as an essential conservation measure of great importance to mankind in general.]
The motion now has no fewer than 263 signatures. Previously, the Leader of the House indicated that he was sympathetic to the matter being discussed. It has not been discussed during this Session. May I have an undertaking from the right hon. Gentleman that he will bring it forward early in the next Session?
If the hon. Gentleman raises the subject with me at the beginning of the next Session I shall do my best to see whether it is possible to discuss it.
Will my right hon. Friend look at Early-Day Motion No. 682, which will be handed to him in a moment, and which relates to Consolidated Gold Fields whose directors are proposing to give an executive a golden handshake of £250,000?
[That this House deplores the decision of the directors of Consolidated Gold Fields Ltd. to give one of their executives a golden handshake of £250,000 as inconsistent with the policy of restraint.]
I realise that it may be difficult for my right hon. Friend to find time for the [column 1579]motion, but will he at least say whether he approves of it?
I have had difficulty enough in arranging debates on these matters without making declarations on each one. I understand that discussions are taking place through the usual channels on the possibility of finding time for a debate, but no conclusion has been reached in respect of this Session. We shall have to start discussions again in the next Session.
Several Hon. Members
Order. I shall call two further hon. Members, one from each side of the House. Mr. Hugh Jenkins.
Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Is my right hon. Friend aware that what he said about the Public Lending Right Bill and about the firmness of the Government's intentions in the matter will be widely welcomed? Will he take steps to see that on this occasion those intentions prevail?
I have nothing to add to what I said earlier. I entirely agree that it is deplorable that all the work done by so many hon. Members from all sides of the House to try to get the Bill through should have proved abortive. No one has worked harder than my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) to put the Bill on the statute book. I hope that we shall both live to see that happen.
Will the Leader of the House clarify the position in respect of the regional debate on Monday? Will he confirm that English regional matters will be discussed and that the debate does not cover the affairs of Wales and Scotland?
That is so. But hon. Members representing Wales and Scotland can always join in if they wish.
Would my right hon. Friend not agree that the best way to ensure public lending rights in this country would be to create two new peerages in that “Chamber of Dilettantes” up the road—the Lord Stoat and the Lord Moate?
Is it not important that the House should, now and again, look [column 1580]above the din of battle and possibly at an early date have what I would call a constitutional debate? Sensible proposals have been made not for reducing the power of the other place but for providing a second Chamber in a rejuvenated form. Would not a debate on those proposals at an early date in this House be opportune?
I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I am not in favour of a second Chamber in a rejuvenated state. I am sufficiently opposed to it in its present decrepit state.