BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
May I ask Michael Footthe Lord President 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 14th November—Second Reading of the Scotland Bill. [column 858]
Motion on EEC Document R/414/76 on excise duty on cigarettes.
Tuesday 15th November—Second Reading of the Wales Bill.
Motion on EEC Document R/1170/77 on seed and plant marketing.
Wednesday 16th November—Consideration of timetable motions on the Scotland and Wales Bills.
Thursday 17th November—Proceedings on the Finance Bill and remaining stages of the Pensioners Payments Bill.
Motion on EEC Documents R/3265/76 and R/1961/77 on the preservation of birds.
Friday 18th November—Second Reading of the Participation of Agreements Bill.
Motion on EEC Documents R/669/77 and R/1568/77 on railways.
Monday 21st November—Supply [1st Allotted Day]: subject for debate to be announced.
It is surely most unreasonable and quite unprecedented to ask the House to take three major constitutional matters in three days—the Scotland Bill, the Wales Bill and two immediate guillotines. It is totally unreasonable and almost insulting to the House to ask us to do it. If the Leader of the House is that short of time, why did he not bring us back one week earlier? Will he reconsider this matter?
I think that the House came back at a convenient time for all concerned, and I thought that everybody was in a good mood on account of the arrangements that had been agreed. Under the proposals for next week, we have sought to have time for the separate Bills that we are bringing forward on Scotland and Wales. I should have thought it a reasonable arrangement to have the timetable motions soon after.
We shall publish the timetable motions and present them tomorrow. The House will be able to look at them over the weekend, and during the early days of next week we shall be able to transact the business perfectly well. Therefore, I hope that the House will agree with the proposals that we have made.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is being quite generous? [column 859]Usually, timetable motions of this kind are dealt with on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Bill, and the customary practice is to allow one and a half hours to debate them. [Interruption.] The normal practice of Conservative and Labour Governments has been to allow three hours for debate on the same day as the Second Reading. [Interruption.] On this occasion we are giving a whole day for timetable motions alone, and I support that.
I am glad to have my right hon. Friend's support on this as on all other matters. I am not sure that he was absolutely accurate in what he said, but the spirit of what he said is right, because we are introducing the timetable motions before the Committee stages. There are plenty of precedents for that. There have been numerous occasions on which the Conservative Party has done this without any complaints. Certainly there were none from the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), who was responsible for some of those operations.
Will the Lord President come down to earth? Despite what the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, I shall be staggered if there are many Members on either side of the House who think that the business that has been announced is reasonable for the House of Commons. We are to have a major constitutional Bill on Scotland dealt with in only one day, followed by a major Bill for Wales to be dealt with in a day, followed immediately by timetable motions.
In answering a point of order earlier this afternoon, you said, Mr. Speaker, that you would see to it—so far as you could—that every point of view was expressed. Everybody knows that on both sides of the House there is a wide variety of views on the devolution Bills. Every party will wish to express its view, and different Members within each party—on the Government side of the House no less than on this side—will wish to express their views. How can that be done in one day? There will be such uproar that, quite understandably, you will ask right hon. and hon. Members to speak briefly. How can they do that on a matter of such complexity?
I think that two or three days should be the minimum for each Bill, but I am a [column 860]reasonable man and I ask the Lord President to reconsider the matter and say that there will be two days for each measure. By trying to gag the House on Second Reading, and by immediately gagging the House throughout the whole of the Committee stage, the right hon. Gentleman, perhaps deliberately, will produce a difficult situation for Parliament, because when another place comes to consider the Bills it will have to debate an awful lot of amendments that have never been discussed in this House.
There are serious constitutional implications here. I regard this as an example of the Government's abuse of Parliament. The Lord President should take this proposal away, think it over, and come back and propose two days on Second Reading for each Bill.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman was a good deal more reasonable in the middle of his remarks than he was at the beginning or at the end. I cannot comply with the suggestion that he has made. [Hon. Members: “Why not?” ] Because the House has a lot of business to get through. We have a full Queen's Speech, for which the House voted last night by a thumping majority, and we want to proceed with the measures set out therein. I am sure that there are some measures in the Queen's Speech of which even the right hon. Gentleman will approve. Indeed, on television the other day he said what a good Queen's Speech it was. It was not quite that, but very near to it—he was working himself up to that, I am sure—and I am doing my best to accommodate him.
There will be plenty of time to discuss these matters, and I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman should criticise the timetable motion before he has seen its content. When he has seen it, he will see how much time will be available to discuss the various matters.
Finally, I hope that on a major constitutional matter of this kind the right hon. Gentleman will not threaten us with what will happen in another place. He seems to have evidence that it will take action to try to interfere with constitutional measures which go through this House. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would like to take the earliest opportunity to withdraw any such suggestion.[column 861]
The Lord President knows perfectly well that I made no such suggestion. The accusation that I made against him was that he rather liked the programme that he announced today for next week because it will put Parliament—this Chamber and another place—in a very real difficulty, and he knows it. It is no good asking Parliament to perform something that is beyond its capability, which will be the case if he restricts time to such an extent that there will not be a proper debate about matters of fundamental importance to the United Kingdom. To turn that round and make the accusation that he did against me is unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman. If he intends to give us so much time, he can spare another day for the Second Reading of each of these Bills. That is not so difficult. It is a reasonable request.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some of us consider that the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) is of even greater constitutional importance than the two Bills that we are to examine, because, in our judgment, he raised the grave——
Order. I want to be helpful to the hon. Member. I know that he would not try to get in a supplementary question in this way. Will he, therefore, raise a point of order that I can answer?
It appeared to some of us that the right hon. Gentleman was threatening to use the other place and was posing it as being in opposition to this House.
Order. The House has heard the exchange and knows exactly where it is, I hope.
There is a great deal that is fictitious in the right hon. Gentleman's protests. When the Prime Minister announced in the debate on the Queen's Speech that there would be timetable motions on these Bills, there was not a whimper from——
He did not say that there would be only one day for Second Reading.
No, he did not. He was giving the right hon. Gentleman and his party the first preliminary indications of [column 862]what was to come. I thought that what we were producing was being welcomed. We shall see what happens next week. We shall see whether there are crowded debates on Wednesday. I hope very much that we shall be able to sustain the debate throughout the three days. I think that the House will get on perfectly well. Indeed, by Wednesday evening we shall all be congratulating ourselves on the way in which we are to proceed with the Bills.
Mr. John Ellis
Will my right hon. Friend take note of the serious situation that is developing in the steel industry, which will affect many of our constituents in Scotland, Wales and other areas? It really is a very worrying matter. This place should be debating—apart from the usual exchanges, so many of which we have heard this afternoon—taking a grip on a situation that is deteriorating very fast indeed. Could my right hon. Friend bear this in mind? We do not need to cite Early-Day Motions or anything else. Everyone knows that this is going on. Will the Lord President bring this to the attention of his right hon. Friends, and, if necessary, the Prime Minister, in order that the House can debate very soon something that will affect us all in a serious way and so that the House can be seen to be doing the job that the Government look to it to do?
I would not deny for a moment that the situation in the steel industry is extremely serious. I am fully aware from my own constituency interests about that aspect of the matter. Discussions have already taken place within the Government on these extremely important questions. I shall certainly take into account what my hon. Friend has said about the time for a debate in this House. I certainly agree that some debate should take place on that subject. There were references to it during the Queen's Speech, but I have no doubt that we shall have to return to the subject in the near future.
Sir. David Renton
In order to clear the air a little, will the Leader of the House say when a timetable motion was last introduced before a Committee stage had even begun? Will he further say whether a timetable motion has ever been introduced before the beginning of [column 863]the Committee stage on a Bill of constitutional importance?
When we come to the debate on Wednesday, these are exactly the matters that will be fully debated. It is precisely for that purpose that a debate takes place upon these matters. Nothing would be more relevant than the question that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised. To answer his question, the last occasion when it happened was on the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Bill 1972 introduced by the Tory Party, and I think I am correct—[Interruption.] I know that it was not a constitutional matter? I am saying what was the last occasion when this happened. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire was either Chief Whip in charge of that operation or he had a hand in the matter. The House will be able to debate all these constitutional matters when we come to them on Wednesday. It is precisely for that reason that proper time should be provided on Wednesday for ample discussion of all the points that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and others may raise.
Many of us—certainly those of us from Wales—would agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) that it would be far more relevant to the people of Wales if we were discussing steel next week rather than an irrelevant Bill about devolution in Wales. As, however, my right hon. Friend is determined that the Bill is to be discussed, why does he show such cowardice that he is afraid to allow the devolution Bills to be amply surveyed by the House by endeavouring to give us such attenuated debates? As it is clear to those of us who have studied the Bill that there are radical alterations from the previous Bill, does he not think that his duty as Leader of the House, irrespective of his personal prejudices, should mean that he would provide the House with ample time in order that we may genuinely invigilate the Bills? How does he justify a guillotine motion when he has no idea what amendents will be tabled and what alterations will be demanded by the House? Surely he is totally failing in his duty as Leader of the House in making this proposal.
My hon. Friend will be able to see, when we table the motion [column 864]tomorrow, what time is being provided under our proposals for the discussion of the Wales Bill. When he sees that, he will be able to calculate how much time will be accorded to each of the different aspects of the Bill. In particular, those who are critics of the Bill will no doubt be able to emphasise the special parts of the Bill that they wish to have discussed.
Included in the Bill also is one of the main matters for which my hon. Friend pressed in our earlier lengthy discussions—a referendum. He will find it there, and I am sure that he will recognise his part-authorship of the Bill that will be presented to the House in that sense. The fact that it is to be considered eventually by the people of Wales can be taken into account by all hon. Members in the decisions they reach when we come to the deliberations.
Let us see how we get on. I do not think that my hon. Friend should be so despondent right at the beginning. At any rate, he must not accuse me of cowardice, because I was perfectly aware that we should get the same attack from him as we had before.
Several hon. Members
Before I call any other hon. Member, may I say that I did not want to interrupt the flow of words of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), but “cowardice” is an unparliamentary expression to use about anyone. It should not have been used, but I know that the Minister gathered the sense of what the hon. Gentleman meant.
I withdraw the word “cowardice” , Mr. Speaker, and use the word “pusillanimity” instead.
Mr. du Cann
As cash limits now cover some 65 per cent. of all Government expenditure, and as, astonishingly, this House has never debated the system, has never discussed the total of the limits and has never discussed them individually, does not the Leader of the House think that, as both the Select Committee on Expenditure and the Select Committee on Public Accounts have reported to the House upon the system, it is high time that he should find an occasion for a debate on this new system with all its important implications? [column 865]
Whilst I am referring to reports of Select Committees, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will publish in Hansard a list of the Select Committee reports made to the House over the past five years and the number of debates that there have been upon them? Many of us feel that there are far too few debates in the House resulting from the honourable and admirable work that members of Select Committees have done. Will the right hon. Gentleman say when he expects to debate the 10 reports of the Select Committee on Public Accounts of last Session?
I shall certainly see whether I can publish in Hansard, in reply to a Question by the right hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member, the list for which he has asked, going back, shall we say, to 1970, so that we may see how the last two Governments may have responded to the reports. Of course, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we should try to have more of these reports debated earlier in the House than we often do. That applies to the last report to which he referred. But the right hon. Gentleman understands, as well as any, I am sure, the pressures of time on the House, and if we were to accord two days for the Scotland Bill and for the Wales Bill—though I do not want to revive that question—there would be less time for many of the debates for which the right hon. Gentleman is asking. I must try to please everybody. It does not always work that way, but I shall do my best to look at the other questions that the right hon. Gentleman has raised.
As for the general question of cash limits, that is a matter that can be debated frequently in the House. It can be raised by Members today if they wish.
Several hon. Members
I shall call two Members only from each side, because there is a great deal more business to be done.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The Select Committee on Member's Interests reported on 26th May last year and submitted a further report on 21st December last year in which it asked the House to reach a decision. So far, neither of those reports has been debated. Will the Lord [column 866]President tell us when he expects these reports to be debated? Does he not agree that, unless they are debated before the Christmas Recess, all credibility in the Register of Members' Interests will have been lost?
The credibility of the reports depends necessarily and solely upon whether the reports have been debated in the House. Whether we are to have a debate in the House raises some other questions. I have nothing further to say about that at the moment.
Can the Leader of the House indicate the exact nature of Wednesday night's business? First, will there be two separate three-hour debates, and can he indicate which will take place first? Secondly, can be indicate what length of time there is likely to be between the timetable motions on Wednesday and the actual commencement of the Committee stages.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions. Perhaps I should have said earlier in response to the pleas from the right hon. Lady—it would have been more gracious if I had said it to her—that we hope that there will be an extra hour for the Second Reading debates on Monday and Tuesday. I should make that clear to the hon. Gentleman and to other right hon. and hon. Members of the House.
We are expecting that there will be two separate debates on Wednesday on the timetable motions. I should expect the motion on the Scotland Bill first and the motion on the Wales Bill second. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman for certain the exact period of time that it will take for the acceptance by the House of the Bills and the timetable motions and the introduction of the Committee stage, but I certainly hope that we shall be starting the Committee stage for Scotland before Christmas, and, of course, very soon after that we shall proceed to the Wales Bill. I hope that we shall have it all through satisfactorily in time for us to have the full celebrations by the middle of next year.
Has my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House seen Early-Day Motion No. 13 about disabled housewives. It expresses regret that, although the new allowance element is welcome, [column 867]some families will be deprived of the full benefit of it, and those families are the poorest families. Therefore, can my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on this subject of great importance to disabled families?
[That this House, while welcoming the introduction of the housewives' non-contributory invalidity pension, regrets that a deduction will be made from the payment due to husbands who are invalidity pensioners and other recipients of social security, thereby depriving such families of the full benefit of the new allowance; and calls upon the Government to rectify this injustice as soon as possible.]
I shall have a look at the motion that is raised by my hon. Friend. I am not quite certain when it expires or when the motion is necessary for debate, but I shall have a look at it and see whether we can deal with it.
While I appreciate that there is to be a debate tomorrow on the narrow subject of sanctions against Rhodesia, I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that there have been other developments in Southern Africa some of which have been described by the Government as a threat to peace. If there is a threat to peace, could we please have an early debate on Southern Africa in general and on what is regarded as a threat to peace in particular?
Of course, I acknowledge to the right hon. Gentleman the supreme importance of the subject that he has raised. Some aspects of the subject no doubt will be debated tomorrow. If the right hon. Gentleman participates in that debate, he may well broaden it. However, I am not suggesting that that should be the sole way in which the House debates this subject. Certainly, I will take into account what the right hon. Gentleman and others have said and see whether we can have a debate at some future occasion on the larger aspects of the matter he has raised.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to draw to your attention that in the Remaining Orders of the Day issued today in item No. 37, referring to Sheriff Peter Thompson, there is a printing error. The motion ought to read, and it was handed in in a form which read: [column 868]
“That Sheriff Peter Thompson do have leave of the House to be present at the Bar of the House when the Prayer for the annulment of the Sheriff (Removal from Office) Order 1977, dated 22nd July 1977, is debated by the House, there to make a statement of his own case at the invitation of Mr. Speaker, and to answer any questions put to him through Mr. Speaker by honourable Members in the customary manner; and that, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Orders Nos. 3 and 4, three hours be allowed for the debate before Mr. Speaker puts the Question on the said Prayer.”
That has been wrongly printed as:
“That Sheriff Peter Thompson do have leave of the House to present at the Bar of the House …” .
Secondly, the order in which Members have signed that motion has been scrambled, for a reason which I do not understand. When it was handed in—and it was handed in by me—the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), the Leader of the Welsh National Party, appeared at the top of the middle column. He has now been put down to No. 3 in the third column. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) has been removed from the bottom of the first column to just above the middle of the second column. The question of substance—my second question—is to ask why the Table Office scrambled the order in which the names were handed in.
Thirdly, it has normally been your practice, Mr. Speaker, when dealing with business questions to announce at a certain stage that you will not take any more questions from hon. Members who have not attempted to catch your eye, when it is in your knowledge that a motion of crucial importance to the House of Commons in its judicial capacity has been signed by Members of every party in the House.
Not to call the Member who wishes to ask the Leader of the House whether he will provide time for that subject is something which must arouse disquiet. We have to bear in mind the time scale of the Prayer tabled in the name of a Labour Member for the annulment of the order to dismiss a judge—something which has never been done before—without his being heard in his own defence. There has been no possibility of asking the Leader of the House whether he will allow that motion to be debated or whether he will allow a Prayer to be taken before the expiration of the period in which Scottish judges, but not English [column 869]judges, can be dismissed by negative resolution procedure without this House having the opportunity to afford redress.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I make no comment on the earlier points raised about the form of publication of the motion on the Order Paper. But I certainly recognise that important constitutional questions are involved in this matter, and I am, therefore, carefully considering how we should deal with it.
I do not necessarily give any guarantee that we would have the debate, or the cross-examination at the Bar, in the form that the hon. Gentleman suggested in his motion, because we are still examining that aspect of the matter. However, I inferred from what he said in the latter part of his statement that he is also urging that there should in any case be some debate in the House which would enable the matter to be discussed. We shall, therefore, look at it in the light of what has been put down by my hon. Friends and others in the earlier motion and the other representations that were made in the House before the recess. We shall also take into account the response to the hon. Gentleman's motion and make a statement or give some indication to the House.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the person who tabled the Prayer to which the hon. Gentleman referred, may I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, or that of the Lord President as Leader of the House, on whether the matter will be debated at all?
Order. What happened a moment ago was highly irregular. I let slip through the net a question to the Lord President under the guise of a point of order and I allowed the Lord President to answer because I felt that an injustice had, perhaps, been done. But we must not conclude that that is to be the general rule.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the matter be debated on the Floor of the House? Can we have the assurance that that elementary justice will be given?
That is not a question for me.[column 870]
Mr. David Price
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since the Leader of the House has failed to give adequate time to either the Scotland Bill or the Wales Bill, I give notice that I shall table a motion for the dismissal of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) as Leader of the House.
On a point of order Mr. Speaker. I am rather in the same position as arose on an earlier point of order. As you know, I gave you notice of a Private Notice Question this morning, but I received a message to the effect that this matter would not be dealt with in that way but that I would be given an opportunity now to put this important matter which affects the House of Commons. I refer to the situation that has arisen from industrial action whereby virtually all the lifts in the Palace of Westminster are out of order, including those to the Special Galleries, to the Press and to other Galleries. If the lifts are not restored, this will make the business of the House very difficult indeed.
The questions that I want to ask the Lord President are to be directed to the Secretary of State for the Environment. First, what action is he taking to ensure that the lifts are returned to working order? Second, and far more serious, what action will he take to ensure that those who have deliberately put certain of the lifts out of order—that can be established—will have criminal action taken against them for malicious damage? Thirdly, what action can be taken as regards those men, who are not the employees of the House, who refuse to tell Mr. Darwin, the Resident Engineer, the reason why these lifts are out of order?
I respectfully submit that these are all matters which the Lord President of the Council can answer. No doubt, after a short consultation with the Secretary of State for the Environment, he will see that the position is rectified and will report back to the House tomorrow.
I allowed latitude to the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) because I can tell the House that I owe him an apology. He is quite correct that I had indicated—something which he should not have revealed to the House—that the matter had been sent to me as a Private Notice [column 871]Question. I had indicated that if he rose during business questions I should call him. With the host who rose, I confess to fallibility and I made a mistake. I did not call the hon. and learned Gentleman. I hope that in due course he will hear a reply to the points he raised, but I think that it would be inadvisable for us to pursue the matter now.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the short time which is to be available to the House on Monday and Tuesday of next week to discuss matters on which, no doubt, a great many hon. Members will still seek to catch your eye—among them many English Back-Bench Members who seem to find it particularly difficult to have their eyes caught by you, Mr. Speaker—may I ask you, without in any way wishing to appear to criticise, whether the customary injunction from the Chair that hon. Members should attempt to keep their speeches brief will on this occasion be backed up by some deterrent on long speeches by early speakers, such as the suggestion that those who make long speeches will much reduce their chances of catching your eye on a future occasion?
Order. The hon. Gentleman has, I believe, among his forebears three former Speakers of the House. He will know that no Speaker selects hon. Members by the colour of their eyes or by their nationality. From time to time the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish all feel that the English are favoured. It is very unfair to think that I would not call an Englishman. But I must say that on the Scotland Bill the selection of speakers will be difficult for me because I want there to be justice for every possible point of view in the House. I shall do my best accordingly.