BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
May I ask the Michael FootLeader of the House whether he will state the business for next week?
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 2nd May—Supply [15th Allotted Day]: until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate on rural transport, and afterwards on the construction industry.
Remaining stages of the Redundancy Rebates Bill.
Tuesday 3rd May—Second Reading of the Criminal Law Bill [Lords] and a debate on Messrs Agree and Hosenball.
Wednesday 4th May—Supply [16th Allotted Day]: a debate on the Royal [column 1487]Air Force on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Motion relating to the Carriage of Goods (Prohibition of Discrimination) Regulations.
Thursday 5th May—Debate on the Fourth Report from the House of Commons (Services) Committee on the size of Hansard.
Afterwards, a further debate on sport and recreation.
Friday 6th May—Private Members' Bills.
Monday 9th May—Progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.
There is, I believe, Mr. Speaker, some interest in the proposed date of the Spring Recess. The present intention is that the House should rise on 27th May and return no sooner than 8th June. I hope it will be possible to delay resumption until 13th June, but that will depend on the progress and state of business.
May I ask the Lord President about Thursday's business? Is it necessary to have another debate at the present time about the size of Hansard? Would it not be more sensible to have a debate on agriculture, the need for which is becoming urgent? Also, will the right hon. Gentleman soon provide a day for a debate on the Helsinki Agreements, particularly before they come up for consideration in Belgrade?
On the last point, I shall consider the representations made by the right hon. Lady about a debate on the Helsinki Agreements, but without making any commitment about time. As for a debate generally about agriculture, that would be an appropriate subject for a Supply Day if the Opposition wanted a debate. Many of our previous agriculture debates have been on Supply Days, but I cannot say that we shall have such a debate on Thursday.
The right hon. Lady suggests that it is unnecessary to have a further debate on the size of Hansard. The resolution passed by the House asked that the Government should make a fuller report to the House than had previously been made by the Services Committee. If this change to Hansard is to be made the [column 1488]House has to give authorisation for it, and therefore we are obeying the desires of the House in putting down the motion for next Thursday.
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that “Size of Hansard” may be a misleading description for next week's debate, and that the ambit and, even more, the future of Hansard might be more appropriate?
Does my right hon. Friend recall that on Friday last the motion relating to the EEC fell through lack of a quorum and therefore still stands on the Order Paper? Is it his intention to bring it back so that the House is able to vote on this important matter relating to the free movement of dentists within the EEC?
The House could have voted on that motion on Friday. I know that there has been some criticism by my hon. Friend and others of the Government for bringing it forward on a Friday, although we did it partly in response to other representations that had been made by my hon. Friend, who wished to have a proper interval between a debate in the Standing Committee and the matter being referred to the House. Therefore, I believe that what we have done in this case will have to stand. I know that my hon. Friends still have criticisms about the whole way in which EEC legislation is dealt with, and the Government will consider the situation for the future. Therefore, I cannot promise my hon. Friend that we shall be able to bring the matter forward more quickly.
My hon. Friend referred to the debate on the size of Hansard, and it may be that other questions apart from the size of Hansard are involved—I am not denying that. There is the report of the Services Committee on the subject, for example. But the resolution of the House asked that the Government should present to the House fuller information on the whole of this subject, and that is what we have done. We are now providing time for the House to debate it, and I think that that is a proper way for us to proceed.
How soon does the right hon. Gentleman feel that we can have a debate in the House on the progressive implementation of the principle of [column 1489]equality of treatment for men and women in social security in Europe?
I cannot promise an exact date, but I will have a look at the presentations that the hon. Lady makes on the subject.
Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the Secretary of State for Industry the question of when the report of the NEDC on the telecommunications industry will be before the House? In view of the importance of this matter in relation to employment generally throughout the telecommunications industry, will he provide time to discuss it?
I shall see what possibilities there are for providing time when the report comes forward and my right hon. Friend makes the statement about it. As my hon. Friend knows, immediately this question arose the Prime Minister took action about it. We shall see whether a debate is the most desirable way of proceeding after a statement has been made.
Mr. Michael Morris
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that we are to have an early debate on the statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment on the new towns? Will he consider linking with it the aspect of health service provision in the new towns?
These are all possibilities for debate, but I must remind the hon. Gentleman and others who put similar questions that the main possibility for debates in the coming weeks derives from Supply Days, and that that is partly what Supply Days are for.
Mr. Greville Janner
Will my right hon. Friend say when Lord Thomson is likely to return from his Commonwealth consultations and when we may expect a statement and a debate on the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference and who is likely to attend it?
I shall see whether a statement should be made upon the subject. The Government have no proposal for a debate on the subject immediately, but I will consider my hon. and learned Friend's suggestion.
Mr. Hugh Fraser
While the Government have some time on their hands, will the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider holding before the Summer Recess [column 1490]a two-day debate on the whole problem of energy in this country, with all the various aspects thereof?
I appreciate the desirability of having a debate on energy, and debates on many of the other subjects that have been raised, but I repeat that many of these are obviously topics that could take place in Supply time. I must correct the right hon. Gentleman when he says he thinks the Government have a lot of time on their hands. The House will have plenty of work to be fulfilled if we are to carry out our present programme before the Summer Recess.
Mr. Bryan Davies
Now that the forces of the capital market are dictating a monopoly in London's evening papers, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Opposition are seeking an early Supply Day to debate the freedom of the Press so that they can pursue this subject with the same ferocity as they pursued the issue of the closed shop?
I have not received any such representations. However, we shall all watch with interest the subjects for debate chosen by the Opposition.
Will the Leader of the House consider using Thursday next and the second week after Whitsun to make progress on the devolution Bill? Is the Leader of the House aware that in Scotland he is rapidly acquiring the nickname “Mac-Nero” ?
That is the first that I have heard of it. However, as I have said to the hon. Gentleman previously, we are having discussions about how we should proceed on the devolution Bill. The Government are determined to proceed with it, and I do not think that the hon. Member should give up hope on this matter as readily as apparently he has. We have not given up hope and are determined to get a devolution measure on the statute book.
May I repeat the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition concerning a debate on agriculture in Government time? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the fact that the Opposition have been outstandingly generous—as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged—in giving time for discussion on agriculture [column 1491]does not mean that we shall always be so? The Minister of Agriculture has a lot to report and explain. Will the right hon. Gentleman now give time, because it is more than his turn?
I am certainly not being churlish about the time that has been provided by the Opposition. What the right hon. Gentleman says has been the case in many respects. However, what I want to underline to the right hon. Gentleman is the fact that many important agriculture debates have taken place in Opposition time—not merely in the life of this Government but in the life of previous Governments. That is a perfectly reasonable proposition. As for having a debate, I am sure that there is nobody more eager to have such a debate than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture who, of course, will be able to deal with these matters extremely effectively. I should have thought that the Opposition might be less than eager to have a debate and that that, perhaps, was why they have not chosen it as an Opposition subject.
When is the House to have an opportunity to debate the extremely important Flowers Report on the problems of nuclear pollution?
I cannot give any indication to my hon. Friend when that will be, but obviously that is one of the subjects that qualify as candidates for consideration. However, I repeat that we have nothing like the amount of time available that some hon. Members seem to suggest.
Mr. Michael Latham
Turning to Monday's debate on the construction industry, will the Minister concerned be taking the opportunity not only to confirm that the Lib-Lab pact has killed off the “Direct Labour Bill Mark I” but that it has also killed off the “Mark II” Bill which consolidated existing powers?
The hon. Gentleman has got hold of the wrong end of the stick entirely. That Bill will be brought forward.
Will my right hon. Friend explain how the time for the business of Thursday night, relating to sport and recreation, is to be used? Will it be a [column 1492]short debate? Shall we have Front Bench speakers opening and closing the debate?
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport will be the Front Bench speaker in the debate. What we have done is to respond to the representations, made by my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes), that we should have an early debate on this subject because the previous one was truncated. I hope that we shall have most of the day for the discussion because it ought to be possible to deal with the question of Hansard—since the House has already had one debate on that matter—fairly speedily. I do not mean within a few minutes. Obviously some hon. Members may wish to debate the matter. However, I hope that we shall have a good deal more than half a day on sport and recreation. If that were not found to be satisfactory, we could perhaps try to get extra time after 10 o'clock.
Mr. John Davies
When are we to get on with direct elections to Europe?
The House had an opportunity of a two-day debate on the matter. The Government will take into account fully what was said in that debate, as we promised we would.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that, as Member of Parliament for the Sheffield, Hillsborough constituency, I come under a great deal of pressure because we have a semi-final there every year? Will he also accept that that part of my constituency was like a camp under siege last Saturday? Although he has announced a debate on sport and recreation, may I ask him to let us have time for a full-scale debate on soccer hooliganism and vandalism, because it is now a national problem and there is pressure throughout the country for such a debate?
I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is having a conference this afternoon on the subject. The Government are aware of the feelings of my hon. Friend and of many other hon. Members about it. I believe that it would be possible to raise aspects of it in the debate arranged for next Thursday. If, after that, it seems desirable to have some further discussion, we shall have to consider the matter, but I cannot [column 1493]make any promise. Certainly my hon. Friend's representations will be brought to the Minister's attention.
Will the right hon. Gentleman try to find time as soon as possible for a full-scale debate on the Government's new proposals on citizenship, together with the related subject of immigration policy? Does he realise that, in giving the size of Hansard precedence over these and many other important subjects, he is revealing a most bizarre sense of parliamentary priorities?
I can understand what would have been said to me by the hon. Member and many others if the Government, having published a lengthy and complicated statement on the nationality proposals and the rest, had put the matter down for debate next Thursday as the hon. Gentleman has suggested. It would have been a ridiculous proposition. Of course that matter will have to be debated, but I think that everyone will agree that it is an extremely complicated question. The complexities are set out in the Green Paper that the Government have published, and after there has been time for consideration there will have to be proper time for debate in the House, but to have put it down next Thursday would have been an absurdity.
Several Hon. Members
Order. I propose to call five hon. Members who have been standing, and, unless there is a Front Bench intervention, no one else.
Will my right hon. Friend be prepared to consider the re-allocation of time in the House for the discussion of London affairs? At the moment, as opposed to other regions, we have the opportunity to discuss Greater London affairs only when we discuss a GLC Bill. That is not only unfair but it is an inefficient way for the House to examine a great region's affairs, as opposed to those of other regions in the country.
I fully accept that my hon. Friend wishes to speak for London on every occasion that is open to him, and he does it very effectively. But I think that London gets its fair share along with other parts of the country. However, we shall look at representations that have been made. London Members, [column 1494]like those from other regions, can have debates upstairs, a procedure that can also assist the House.
When will the right hon. Gentleman allow a debate on immigration? It was on 5th July last year that we last had a debate on immigration. It is a far more urgent and important subject even than British citizenship to many people in this country. Is it not a disgrace that the Home Secretary has called for a discussion on British citizenship when he has denied us the right to discuss immigration for so long?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should use the word “disgrace” in that connection. I also think that he should withdraw any suggestion that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is denying possibilities of a debate. What the Home Secretary has published on the general subject of nationality in the Green Paper will give rise to a very widespread debate. There must also be some discussion in the House on the Franks Committee Report, and there are other immigration matters that I agree should be debated in the House. Again I say that it would not be altogether out of place if occasionally the Opposition selected the subject of immigration for a Supply Day debate.
Mrs. Renée Short
Will my right hon. Friend say when the Select Committee on Procedure is likely to bring forward a report on the reform of the sitting hours of the House? If it does not do so soon, will he himself make proposals so that they can be debated before the Summer Recess?
I do not think it would be sensible for the Government or anyone else to make proposals in the next few weeks about our sitting hours, because that matter involves the whole principle of how the House of Commons operates. That is why it has been referred to this longer-term Procedure Committee. The Committee will make its report in due course. I do not think that it would be wise to interrupt its work and ask it for a special report on the aspect of the matter raised by my hon. Friend, because it touches on so many others.
As a former editor of the Evening Standard, would the Lord President provide time next week for a [column 1495]debate upon what is happening in Fleet Street? Would he agree that when Fleet Street next calls for more open government and the full disclosure of all facts in a given situation, condemning decisions behind closed doors by a handful of men, it might live up to the standards which it advocates?
I have a good deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I hope that his observations will be printed on the front page of every newspaper tomorrow. I believe that it would be a tragedy, not only for the newspaper industry but for London, if the Evening Standard were to disappear from the streets of London. There are great difficulties, and it is not a question that the Government can decide. Others have the power to decide these matters.
At what time may we expect the debate on Messrs. Agee and Hosenball to begin, and how long has been allocated to it? Can my right hon. Friend assure us that there will be adequate opportunity for Back Benchers to take part, which would not be possible if there were Front Bench spokesmen from both sides in a short debate?
The time we were proposing to allocate is the time suggested on previous occasions, that there should be a two-hour debate. I quite agree with my hon. Friend that it would be intolerable if the whole or a great proportion of that time were eaten up by Front Bench speeches, but I do not believe that that would be the intention of Front Bench speakers on either side.
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that it would be a welcome change for the House to devote more time to some of the long-term issues of both national and international importance? In that connection, will he reconsider the answer he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) about a debate on energy policy, so that we may discuss not only the conservation but the nuclear proliferation aspects as well?
I recognise that these are extremely important matters which ought to be debated in the House. The Government seek to arrange that we have debates on many wide matters, although, [column 1496]naturally, Government debates are, in the main, although not entirely, given over to legislative proposals. [Interruption.] I hear an interruption from some quarter about Hansard. Again, all I can say about the Hansard debate is that the Government are responding to a motion passed by the House of Commons itself. On nuclear energy questions, a very important matter, the Opposition have considerable opportunities for proposing subjects for debate in the House.
Mr. Ioan Evans
When does my right hon. Friend propose to have a debate on the Bullock Report on industrial democracy and on the Annan Report on the future of broadcasting? Will he insist that we debate those issues before the Government formulate their views?
I agree that there must be further debate on both those subjects before any legislation is brought forward. The Government are committed to carry through legislation on industrial democracy in this Parliament as one of their major measures. We must first have discussion in the House in order to shape that legislation. That is what we shall do.
Second, before any action is taken on the broadcasting report there will have to be a debate in the House, but I can-not say that that will take place in the near future.
Mr. David Hunt
Will the Lord President find time for the House to comment upon his speech about a Socialist Republic? If he made that speech, would he like to take this opportunity to explain why he made it—if possible, before the Jubilee celebrations begin—and whether he proposes to participate as Lord President in those celebrations?
Order. Not this day.
I would not seek to stray out of order, Mr. Speaker, by replying to the last part of the question. The first parts is in order since it refers to an Early-Day motion:
[That this House notes the call by the Lord President in a speech at Ashfield, for the creation of a Socialist Republic in Britain; totally rejects this suggestion; and calls on the Prime Minister to indicate if the abolition of the Monarchy is now official Labour Party policy.][column 1497]
Since it appears that the wording of that motion is based on a remark of mine wrenched from its context, and since it further appears to be based on a hearsay report by somebody at least 200 miles from the meeting where I was making the speech, I think that the motion would qualify as just about the most infantile Early-Day motion that has ever been put down—and that is saying something.
Mr. Rhodes James
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that last week representations were made to him by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) and myself about the need for an early debate on energy policy, which has now been re-emphasised by several of my right hon. and hon. Friends. May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to give this subject considerable priority, so that we may have an early debate?
I accept, of coure, that it is an extremely important matter. Some of these questions will be touched upon in other debates to come. It is conceivable that some hon. Members might refer to energy policy when we debate petrol—but who knows? I am not saying that that deals with the whole situation, but I repeat that the business of the House is arranged in such a manner that the Opposition have varied opportunities for raising matters in debate, and I think that hon. Members should make some of their representations—not all of them—to their own Front Bench.
Several Hon. Members
Order. It must not be taken as a precedent, but I am prepared to call two hon. Members who were very late in rising. Mr. Costain.
As the Leader of the House was in the Chamber when the Prime Minister was unable categorically to deny that it was Labour Party policy to abolish the Monarchy—except “Not next week” —will he arrange in the appropriate manner for the Prime Minister to make a serious statement on this matter on Monday, before Her Majesty comes?
I do not think that infantile propositions need serious replies.[column 1498]
In view of the fact that the Cabinet has been considering—recently, I understand—the future of the turbo-generating industry, will my right hon. Friend make facilities for an announcement to be made during the next few days?
I cannot say within the next few days but, obviously, if further agreements are reached about it, an announcement would have to be made in the House.