BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
May I ask Michael Footthe Leader of the House to state the business for the week when we return from 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:
Monday 9th January—Supply [3rd Allotted Day]: debate on a motion to take note of the First to Tenth Reports from the Select Committee on Public Accounts in Session 1976–77, and the related Treasury and Northern Ireland memoranda.
Motion on the Parochial Registers and Records (Church of England) Measure.
Tuesday 10th January and Wednesday 11th January—Further progress in Committee on the Scotland Bill.
Thursday 12th January—Progress in Committee on the European Assembly Elections Bill.
Friday 13th January—Private Members' motions.
Can the Lord President give some indication how he proposes to deal in the future with the European Assembly Elections Bill? He was kind enough in the past to indicate that he intended to take about two days a week on the Scotland Bill. What are his plans for dealing with the European Assembly Elections Bill?
I think that we should first see how we proceed on Thursday 12th January. We can make up our minds after that.
Mr. Raphael Tuck
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, following an unsuccessful attempt by me two days ago to raise the matter of the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order in the House and a subsequent meeting of a number of us with the Minister for Housing and Construction, it was announced last night that that order has now been withdrawn subject to further consideration. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that that further consideration will include [column 917]time for debate in the House and that he will not try to bulldoze the whole thing through the House without adequate debate, which he appeared to be doing until the announcement last night?
There was no question of any bulldozing at all. What happened was that representations were made to me in the House—from both sides of the House, by my hon. Friend and by others—and representations were made in other meetings. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment responded to those requests, and that is the reason for the withdrawal of the order. Of course, he will now have further discussions with right hon. and hon. Members on this side—and perhaps with others—and with local authorities. We shall see how we shall proceed then. Far from it being a matter of bulldozing, it has been a matter of responding to the wishes of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman is aware that, following the decision of the Committee on Tuesday night, the Government have accepted that it will be necessary for them to bring forward amendments to the European Assembly Elections Bill. These will, no doubt, be amendments which the Government have had a long opportunity to consider. As they may be relevant to amendments and debates on the next day in Committee, could the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that those amendments will be tabled, if possible, before the House rises or at the latest on the first day after we return?
I certainly hope that we could accord with the second suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman, if not with the first. If he is referring to the new clause which was promised, that is one aspect of the matter, and I should hope that that at any rate would be down by the first day when we return. I shall certainly look into the further question that the right hon. Gentleman has raised to see whether we can either get the amendments down before the House rises, or at any rate on the first day when we return.
When shall we have an opportunity to discuss foreign policy, including the proposals in the Berrill Report?[column 918]
We do not have proposals for such a debate at the moment. This is a matter that can be raised by others in the House, but I do not have any proposition for such a debate in the immediate future.
As one of the members of the Franks Committee which reported on the question of immigration as long ago as October of last year, and as we were told when that committee was set up by Mr. Jenkins that the purpose was for a report as a basis for debate, may I ask when it is proposed to have the debate on Franks Committee Report?
There are various other ways in which general debates of these matters can be introduced. Indeed, one of the arrangements of the House gives the Opposition the opportunity to make the choice of subject. That does not mean that the debate could not take place on another occasion, but I have no suggestion at the moment, I fear, for an immediate debate on the subject.
Is the Leader of the House aware that there will be considerable disappointment that he has not yet found it possible to give Government time to discuss the condition of the steel industry? Is he aware that the executives of the British Steel Corporation refuse to give the necessary information to the Select Committee? May we have an opportunity of a debate before the redundancies take place so that, if possible, we may be able to influence the situation?
Obviously, the matter is of the highest importance both for hon. Members who represent steel constituencies and for the country as a whole. It will have to be debated in some form in the House of Commons. I do not accept for a moment that any discussion at a Select Committee would be a substitute for a debate in the House, but the exact time when it is best for the debate to take place is another question. The Government have said that a statement will be made when we return after the recess, and we shall have to see on the basis of that statement when a debate could take place.
Mr. Hugh Jenkins
My right hon. Friend will have heard the Prime Minister deal pretty comprehensively with the hon. [column 919]Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings). This may be why in his plans for next week he has not provided for any further discussion of the matter raised by the hon. Member. But since my right hon. Friend was here himself and heard the allegations, has he anything further to add on the matters raised by the hon. Member yesterday?
I did not comment fully on what was said by the hon. Gentleman yesterday, because I was out of the Chamber for a period during his speech. Although I was given a note of it, I did not think that I could comment immediately. Having now read the speech, I believe that a much more extensive comment could and should have been made, but I believe that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members will agree with the contempt which the Prime Minister has expressed on the matter and the manner in which it was introduced by the hon. Gentleman.
Sir D. Walker-Smith
On the last question put to him, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the point is that there should be an investigation by the most appropriate method of allegations of this sort? Will he kindly take that under consideration? Second, I wanted to ask, in regard to the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order, whether the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that neither yesterday in the House—this is col. 498 of Hansard—nor in response to the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck) did he state that, if the order is brought forward again, there will be time to debate it.
On the first question, if the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) had been concerned about a serious discussion rather than spreading a smear, he would not have introduced the matter in the way he did. On the second question, of course, I believe that, in view of the general public interest aroused on this subject, there will have to be a debate. I assume that it would take place on the same kind of basis that we were proposing for a debate to take place on the original order. In view of the general interest, I believe that there would have to be a debate in the House, as well as the representations from other quarters.[column 920]
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a fact that at business questions the Leader of the House is acting as Leader of the House and representing the interests of hon. Members on both sides? Is it, therefore, right and in accordance with the practice of the House that he should impute wrong motives to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) in the speech he made yesterday?
I think that there is no comment I can pass there other than to say that I have heard it done many a time since I have been here.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that the hon. Gentleman has been invited to go on a television programme to discuss the matter tonight with me and refused——
Order. Both sides are pursuing this. We are not advancing the interests of the House in pursuing the matter in this way. I must warn the House that I have over 40 names of hon. Members who have indicated that they hope to catch my eye in the debate on the rate support grant, and I hope that that will be borne in mind now.
May I ask my hon. Friend, once again, whether he will arrange, early in the New Year, a full-scale debate on the question of unemployment? Is he aware that many of my hon. Friends are of the opinion that present legislation going through the House is less important than a debate on unemployment?
I fully accept what my hon. Friend says about the paramount importance of continuing debate and discussion in the House and with Ministers on the major subject of unemployment, and I am not at all surprised that he raises the matter so constantly in the House. Because special debates are not arranged on the subject does not mean that the Government do not attach the highest importance to it.
As my hon. Friend knows, because he participates in them, representations are all the time being made by him and other hon. Members whose areas are worst hit. But we must look in the New [column 921]Year to having general debates on the subject in the House.
Does the Leader of the House recollect that the matter arising out of the Frolik statement yesterday was a conflict of evidence between the Czech defector and the previous Prime Minister whether John Stonehouse was a Czech spy? Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that that is a matter which ought to be cleared up? Will he not undertake that there will be a statement and an inquiry by the Security Commission into all matters concerned with that issue?
If Conservative hon. Members were serious in wishing to have an inquiry into these matters, they would not have chosen the method of raising them which they did choose.
As there seems to be a swarm of requests from the Opposition for investigations and inquiries concerning a book which is having difficulty selling, would my right hon. Friend consider—as there is to be no inquiry into that matter—whether we may have an inquiry into another book that is selling, namely, the book by Charles Raw about Slater Walker? That would reveal a few things about hon. Members opposite.
I hope that, in his eagerness to discuss the second book, my hon. Friend will not give too much advertisement to the first.
Does not the Leader of the House think that he is protesting too much about the matter that was raised yesterday? Is he not aware that yesterday I suggested that he was rather sensitive on the issue, and he is giving every indication today that he is? I do not think it right that he should impugn the honour and the intentions of hon. Members. Will he now answer the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow)—a real point and a new one—which was relative to the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson)?
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should give his shield or cover to his hon. Friends in this matter. Perhaps he would consider whether raising matters of this kind on an Adjourn[column 922]ment is the proper way, particularly when the names of individual citizens will be mentioned. Surely, if that is to be done, an opportunity might be given whereby those involved would be able to reply immediately. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should consider the fair play involved and sort out that question before he questions me on the matter.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his response to the representations on the Town and Country General Development (Amendment) Order. May I ask him to spend some of the recess reflecting on Early-Day Motion No. 131, which draws attention to the abuse of the guillotine on the Scotland Bill? Will he use his best endeavours to ensure that, when we return, every relevant and important clause of that Bill receives proper debate? It is a constitutional absurdity that a Bill of such magnitude should go through without some of its most important clauses being even discussed in the House.
[That this House strongly deplores the result of the use of the guillotine on the Scotland Bill whereby 22 of the 38 clauses of the Bill so far considered have been forced through without any opportunity for debate or amendment; notes that these include many clauses of serious constitutional importance; and insists that the Government enable Parliament to do its duty by providing sufficient time for the consideration of each of the remaining clauses of the Bill.]
I understand the importance of the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman. The matter was discussed by the House when it set up the Business Committee, has been discussed by the Business Committee, and may be discussed by that Committee again. There are always difficulties with a guillotine, but the House decided that if the Bill was to go through—and the House wanted the Bill to go through—it was necessary to have a guillotine.
Several hon. Members
I shall call three more hon. Members.
As one of the matters of great interest and uncertainty to members of the public outside the House is the future of the Lib-Lab pact, does the Leader of the House feel that a suitable [column 923]subject for debate during the first few weeks after the recess might be the proposition in The Times this morning to the effect that the Liberal Party is no longer the people's watchdog but rather the Prime Minister's poodle?
I think that The Times usually does a bit better than that. At least it is usually able to manufacture its own jokes. Moreover, I should not accept The Times as an authority on the Liberal Party or on any of these arrangements. Indeed, The Times is probably as irritated as is, say, the Sun, although not always expressing itself so ably, and other newspapers, such as the Daily Express, that arrangements conveniently made in the House are ensuring that the good government of the country is carried on.
As forestry is of great importance to Scotland as a major form of land use, are we never to have a debate on the Floor of the House on forestry? Must we wait until there is a Scottish Assembly, to debate it there?
This does not apply only to the hon. Gentleman. I think that it is wrong for hon. Members to give the impression to people outside that there are not plenty of opportunities for Back Benchers to raise a whole range of such questions. Any hon. Member who, over a few weeks, is not able to raise this kind of matter is not making the fullest use of the facilities of the House of Commons. It does no good to the House of Commons to suggest that suppression of debate is occurring because debates are not always taking place on Government motions or Government proposals. Back Benchers have access to a great part of parliamentary time.
Will the right hon. Gentleman try to find time early in the New Year for a debate on mental health? It is some time since we debated this matter, and when we last debated it there was an expression of opinion that further time would be found as soon as convenient.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the subject and the importance of having debates on it, but once again I must say that there are opportunities for others, apart from the Government, to initiate debates in the House.[column 924]
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I heard him, the Leader of the House impugned my honour during a statement a short time ago. Am I not to be given the right of reply?
I heard nothing to impugn the hon. Gentleman's honour, or I should have intervened. The disagreement about whether the hon. Gentleman should have raised what he did is entirely different from saying that he is a dishonourable man. As the matter has had a very good airing I think that it is in the best interests of the House to leave it where it is.