Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

HC PQ [Business of the House]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [942/661-74]
Editorial comments: Around 1530-1558.
Importance ranking: Trivial
Word count: 4806
[column 661]


Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask Mr. 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 23rd January—Supply [4th Allotted Day]: there will be a debate on agriculture, on an Opposition motion, when EEC Documents R/2601/77 and R/2651/77 will be relevant.

Motion to take note of developments in the EEC civil aircraft sector when Commission Documents Nos. R/2461/75, R/1860/76, R/222/77 and R/1964/77 will be relevant.

Tuesday 24th January and Wednesday 25th January—Progress in Committee on the Scotland Bill. [column 662]

Thursday 26th January—Consideration of a timetable motion on the European Assembly Elections Bill.

Afterwards, debates on the size of Hansard, broadcasting the proceedings of the House, and computer-based indexing in the Library.

Friday 27th January—Private Members' Bills.

Monday 30th January—Supply [5th Allotted Day]: subject for debate to be announced.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President two questions? The first relates to the European Assembly Elections Bill, on which he must already have decided how much time he is to allow on that guillotine. Will he give some indication of the decision he has reached on the time he is proposing to allow for Committee stage, Report stage and Third Reading?

Secondly, the Lord President will be aware that many important issues on the Scotland Bill have not been debated and that there are complaints from both sides of the House. Will he put down a motion to give us more time for that Bill so that some of those issues may be debated?

Mr. Foot

On the second question, of course I am aware of the representations that have been made by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) on a number of occasions asking for more time on the Scotland Bill. I have nothing to add to what I have already said. There will be a discussion at the Business Committee after we have ended the Committee stage, and we can consider some rearrangement of the time that has already been allocated, but I cannot promise any further time.

On the European Assembly Elections Bill, we are proposing a timetable motion which will be put on the Order Paper at the beginning of next week and which will allow for three days to complete the Bill.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have to inform the House that I have been given notice of a further statement, which I know is likely to cause many questions, an application under Standing Order No. 9, and points of order, before we get to the [column 663]Transport Bill, on which a large number of right hon. and hon. Members have indicated that they wish to speak.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his point about the direct elections Bill and the timetable? In view of the fact that my right hon. Friend constantly reminds me and others of my hon. Friends about party policy, particularly in relation to devolution, I should like to remind him in turn that it is Labour Party policy not to support the direct elections Bill. Therefore, I appeal to my right hon. Friend not to go ahead with his policy on the Bill. If he does, he might as well reconsider the attitude which some of us might take to other legislation.

Mr. Foot

I know very well the strong feelings that exist within the Labour Party on this question——

Mr. Heffer

My right hon. Friend is ignoring them.

Mr. Foot

I also know very well the strong feelings of my hon. Friend and of other hon. Members on the matter, and that their views represent those of many people throughout the country. However, there are commitments by the Government——

Mr. Heffer

I am sick of the Government.

Mr. Foot

There are commitments by the party and by the Government to a series of measures. If the time of Parliament were to be consumed by the direct elections Bill, there would be much less time available for many other matters—[Interruption.]—which are urged upon me by my hon. Friends every Thursday, and which we intend to put on the statute book.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Will the Lord President say when legislation to help first-time home buyers is likely to be published? Will the subject be given an early debate in the House?

Mr. Foot

That is one of the measures to which the Government are committed. We hope that work is proceeding on the matter and that it will come before the House shortly for the normal process of debate.

Mr. Fernyhough

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would reconsider [column 664]his decision about a guillotine of the debates on direct elections to Europe? I ask on the basis that this is not the only country which will fail to conform to the timetable that has been laid down by the EEC. [Hon. Members: “Question.” ] I am asking a question, which can be accepted and answered either “Yes” or “No” . It does not need a pupil from an infants school to teach the boys of the senior school how to ask a question.

Mr. Rost

Get on with it.

Mr. Fernyhough

I shall get on with it when hon. Members are prepared to listen.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House is becoming too excited. Every hon. Gentleman asks his question in his own way.

Mr. Fernyhough

Thank you. Mr. Speaker. You and I have asked many questions in an atmosphere of this sort.

What I wish to ask my right hon. Friend—with whom I have always worked in the closest harmony and whom I have always supported—is whether, on the basis of our mutual friendship, he will reconsider his decision, because it makes difficulties where they need not arise.

Mr. Foot

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for the general tone and spirit in which he has put his question. I cannot promise him, however, that we shall consider his proposal. The House of Commons will have the opportunity of discussing this suggestion next week.

Mr. Powell

Has the right hon. Gentleman been informed of the fiasco with which the Government met at a late hour last night on EEC business? Will he provide time for that business to be continued and completed after he has studied the Official Report, since it is evident that it cannot be dealt with under the Standing Order under which it was attempted?

Mr. Foot

I accept fully that the matter cannot be dealt with under the Standing Order under which it was down on the Order Paper yesterday. Of course, there [column 665]will have to be another occasion in different circumstances and under a different Standing Order when it may be debated. The error that occurred was that a document which was said to be a Commission document was nothing of the sort. That, therefore, has to be taken into account.

I am sorry that the error occurred. But it is also the fact that the same error was committed by the Scrutiny Committee, which recommended the debate on the matter. I believe that we must also take steps to ensure that such an error is not repeated. We shall certainly do that, and I give the undertaking to the right hon. Gentleman that there will be a further occasion for a debate on the matter before any final decision is reached.

Mr. English

After the guillotine motion on Thursday, there is the question of broadcasting the proceedings of this House. When will the Government's motion on that subject be laid, so that we may all consider it, and will it include what every Committee of this House, bar one, has recommended, and what at least one broadcasting authority recommends, namely a House of Commons controlled broadcasting unit?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend has his own views on that matter. Some of my hon. Friends and others agree with him, and there are some hon. Members who take a different view. The matter, however, is one for the House to decide, as it will do next week. I hope that we shall get the motion down in time for my hon. Friend and others to be able to consider it. I hope, therefore, that the House will be able to reach a conclusion on the matter, because then we shall be able to carry out the other decision of the House that we should proceed with broadcasting.

Sir John Rodgers

Regarding the discussion next Thursday of the European Assembly Elections Bill, does the Leader of the House realise that on that day more than 30 hon. Members from both sides of the House are attending a plenary session of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg? Could the right hon. Gentleman not try to arrange the introduction of this sort of motion on a day when they will be present in the House?

[column 666]

Mr. Foot

One of the constant difficulties that we face in arranging business in the House is that business is also being transacted in Brussels and elsewhere. However, I cannot make any suggestion about altering the proposal for next Thursday.

Mr. John Mendelson

Will the Leader of the House consider that it is under his leadership of the House of Commons that, in one parliamentary Session, the House is being asked to implement two major constitutional Bills of great historic importance and one minor one, and that those who have been considering with great misgivings the guillotine motion on devolution have been proved absolutely right in the warnings that they gave to the House and to their colleagues? Will he realise that, if he is not prepared to reconsider and abandon the guillotine motion on the European Assembly Elections Bill, the only defence of the rights of the House of Commons will be for Back Benchers to prevent all progress on all legislation from now on?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that my hon. Friendly is likely to reconsider the last part of his remarks—[Hon. Members: “No.” ] I do not believe that that is the way in which either this Government, or any other Government, could carry out their obligations.

As the House knows, and as has been stated in the debates on all these measures, the Government are fulfilling various commitments which we have made on these subjects. If we were not to have timetable motions on these measures, we should not be able to fulfil those commitments. That is the fact that we believe the House has to face, just as the Government have faced it, and just as, I believe, the Labour Party also has to face it.

Mr. Graham Page

May I return to what happened last night, when Mr. Deputy Speaker was obliged to take the almost unprecedented step of stopping the debate on a Government motion because the Government had made such a complete four-letter-word-up or five-letter-word-up of that motion? Will the Leader of the House be more forthcoming upon how he will resume that debate and, for how long, and whether it will be within Government time?

[column 667]

Mr. Foot

I do not think that I could be more forthcoming without indulging in the expletives which the right hon. Gentleman was so careful not to use. I can assure him that my language, too, was quite strong this morning.

We are seeking to remedy the situation by putting it back into the power of the House to solve the matter. Nobody could say that I am not trying to overcome the situation by the method which must best suit the House and give the best guarantee that the House keeps control over the matter. I have gone even beyond that. I have said that we must take such steps as we can to try to ensure that no such error—that is the mildest way of putting it—is repeated.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend recall that at the beginning of the Session many of us on the Government Benches warned him that it would be difficult if he tried to get three major constitutional measures through in one Session? In view of the opposition of the Leader of the Opposition and others to the guillotine imposed on the devolution Bills, can my right hon. Friend say whether the Opposition have made any objections through the usual channels to the guillotine on the direct elections Bill?

Mr. Foot

As my hon. Friend and the House must know, I am extremely careful in discussing anything that has been discussed in the usual channels. If we want to keep the usual channels open, that care has to be properly maintained. The Government have many commitments. They have the commitment relating to the direct elections Bill and they have commitments to the people of Wales, the people of Scotland and the people of Northern Ireland. There are always some hon. Members who say that they hope the Government will abandon a particular commitment. I cannot tell my hon. Friends that the Government will abandon those commitments. We shall fulfil them.

Mr. Baker

I apologise for intruding on private grief, but as the Labour Party in Ilford, North has now adopted a candidate, will the Lord President find a few moments next week to allow the Patronage Secretary to move the writ for the by-election there? In view of the united sentiments expressed [column 668]by the Labour Party, does not he think that it is about time to take the electoral temperature?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman knows that these delicate matters are best left to the “patronage secretaries” of both parties. In both parties they deal with these matters perfectly properly, and that is the best way to leave it.

Mr. Lipton

Does my right hon. Friend intend to find time to debate Early-Day Motion No. 155? Many of us want to get rid of this man as soon as possible.

[That this House calls upon the Lord Chancellor to remove from office Judge Neil Nairn McKinnon, QC.]

Mr. Molloy

Guillotine for him.

Mr. Lipton

I do not mind if my right hon. Friend applies a guillotine to the debate on this motion, as long as we can get rid of this man quickly.

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and several others of my hon. Friends, came on a deputation and put to me their very strong views on the subject. The names of those who have signed the motion, and their numbers, give a further indication of the very strong feelings that prevail in the House on this subject. I am not surprised that that expression of opinion has been placed on the Order Paper, but in the discussion, as he will recall, I indicated why I thought, and still think—and why the Government think—that it would not be the best way of dealing with the matter to have a debate on that kind of motion. I believe that that is an important argument which also has to be taken into account by the House.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

The Leader of the House must be bemused by the fact that he is getting more rough treatment from his own side than he is getting now from Her Majesty's Opposition. Will he find time for a statement, or persuade his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to make a statement, as soon as possible on the future of the steel industry in Scotland, because there is tremendous concern in Scotland now on that subject?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry told the [column 669]House on Monday that the Government have been considering these large questions, which affect not only Scotland but the whole country. They are serious and far-reaching questions for the steel industry and they affect the economy as a whole. We shall bring forward our statement of policy and how the Government propose to deal with the matter. But we think it more important to consider that a little further and get the right answer than to have a precipitate statement. Of course, we recognise the importance of the matter, and that is why we are giving serious consideration to all aspects of it.

Mr. Stoddart

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement about a guillotine on the European Assembly Elections Bill will cause anger in not only the House—it has already done so—but throughout the Labour Party in the country? Is he further aware that he cannot get that guillotine without the support of the Opposition, because there is no majority for it on this side of the House? Finally, will he accept that many people in the Labour Party, who have voted on other matters because of Labour Party policy laid down by annual conference, will not feel themselves bound any longer if the Government themselves are prepared to ignore decisions by our party conference that were passed by a two-to-one majority?

Mr. Foot

I fully understand the strong feelings that prevail within the Labour Party on this matter. The actual proposal will be debated in the House next week and I suggest that my hon. Friend should wait until then. But what we are seeking to do, and are determined to do, is to carry through the full programme which we laid before the House at the beginning of this Session.

Mr. Marten

Can the Leader of the House say how many days we have already spent on the direct elections Bill? Will he recognise that it has been generally admitted by the Chair and others that there have been no filibustering and no late night sittings after midnight, and will he acknowledge that this is a grave constitutional Bill which should not be treated in that way?

Mr. Foot

I am not making any charge of filibustering or anything of the sort. Of course, all these—the time already [column 670]given to the Bill, and the time to be allocated—will be discussed in the normal way when the timetable motion is debated next Thursday. I believe that, when hon. Members look at the general time available and at the amount of the Bill still to be covered, they will see that what we are proposing is a reasonable way of dealing with it. Certainly I am not making this suggestion for next Thursday on the ground that there has been filibustering.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

How does my right hon. Friend view the morale of the Labour Party in the country if the guillotine on the direct elections Bill has to be passed with Tory votes?

Mr. Foot

As I said before, I fully understand the feeling in the Labour Party on this subject, but I would also ask my hon. Friends to understand that, if we were not to proceed with a timetable motion on the Bill, it would greatly interfere with many of the other measures that many of my hon. Friends wish to see placed upon the statute book. They have to take that into account as well because, if we are to fulfil as many as possible of the undertakings that we have given, we need time in order to do so. They must face that fact, just as everyone else must.

Mr. Heffer

Why does not my right hon. Friend face the facts?

Mr. Hodgson

When does the Lord President expect to bring forward proposals for implementation of the Briggs Report on the future of nursing? In view of the uncertainty that the present delay is causing, could he do something to prevail upon his colleagues so that they treat this as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give any promise about legislation on that subject, because we have not been able to proceed with that yet. But I shall see whether there is any possibility for further debate on the matter. I appreciate the importance of the Briggs Report, and the Government are committed to try to go ahead with it as soon as possible.

Mr. Skinner

If my right hon. Friend is correct when he says that there are many people, including the Government, clamouring for the introduction of other measures and that we need time for them, [column 671]why is he telling us so often that the Government are not able to introduce some of the measures that the Labour Party has put forward on previous occasions? The complete and utter answer, of course, is that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Cabinet should drop the direct elections Bill and allow plenty of time for all these measures. Is it not sad that, at a time when many of the countries in the Common Market are turning in on themselves and the EEC momentum has now almost come to a halt, we are engaging in this short cut to get the Bill through?

I must tell my right hon. Friend that there are many Government supporters who will take into account all aspects of Government policy on the basis of looking at the package as a whole, and, if that package has nothing to offer to people like me, we shall have to restudy that package.

Mr. Foot

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be as good as his word and will take into account all the other measures that this Government have introduced, or are sustaining. I give him one immediate example: the temporary employment subsidy, to which references were made a few minutes ago. If that is to be sustained, it will need a Labour Government to do it. If we are to deal with all these other measures——

Mr. Skinner

Tell that lot over there.

Mr. Foot

I am telling them as well as my hon. Friend. But my hon. Friend must take into account his responsibilities in this sense as well.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take three more questions from each side. There is another statement to follow.

Mr. Michael Marshall

Reverting to steel, will the Lord President accept that the whole House, I am sure, will want to await the outcome of the deliberations of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries at its meeting next Tuesday? But will he please take this opportunity to assure the House that the steel debate, when it comes, will come before the Government statement?

Mr. Foot

On the last undertaking that the hon. Gentleman has asked for, [column 672]the normal way, as I said last week, would be for the Government to give their views on the representations of a Select Committee, or on general matters on which the Government wished to take action, and the debate on them would take place at the same time. But I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his remarks. I think that the best course is to leave the meeting of the Select Committee to take place. I believe that the atmosphere is already getting considerably cooler.

Mr. Ashley

May I ask my right hon. Friend to turn his attention from these weighty matters to the question of home workers, of whom there are about a quarter of a million in Britain? There is now abundant evidence not only that many of them are employed as sweated labour but that some of them are employed indirectly by the Government. Does he not agree that this important matter calls for an early debate?

Mr. Fernyhough

In place of that on the Common Market and direct elections.

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an early debate on this specific matter, although, obviously, the subject matter would come into a general economic debate. I know that my hon. Friend is very skilful at using the many other opportunities that are provided for Members to initiate debates.

Mr. MacKay

Will the Lord President indicate when we are likely to have the long-overdue debate on race relations? When he answers the question, will he take into account that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would appreciate a debate in the near future on this important subject?

Mr. Foot

I accept fully that it would be a good idea for the House to have a debate on this subject. As I have said before, there are many opportunities for such a debate. But I agree with the hon. Member not because I have any agreement with his attitude to the subject but because it is important that we should have a debate in the House generally on the subject.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

In case my right hon. Friend should be misled, may I ask him whether he is aware that some of us on this side of the House are very pleased [column 673]and welcome the announcement that there is to be a timetable motion—[Interruption.]—not only because we want to see that Bill on the statute book but because we want to see other Socialist reforming pieces of legislation introduced this Session? As a result of this, will my right hon. Friend be able to introduce legislation to establish a co-operative development agency, for instance, to reform the House of Commons and to regulate banking in this country in the way proposed in the White Paper?

Mr. Foot

We shall seek to carry through all the measures which were included in the Queen's Speech at the begining of this Session. Some of my hon. Friends were more enthusiastic about some parts of that Queen's Speech than about others, and I perfectly understand that. But that is not a novelty in House of Commons arrangements. We want to carry through the whole programme to which we are committed. We would certainly like to be able to introduce a Bill to establish a co-operative development agency, but it is not on the list at the moment. It is high up on the list of priorities.

I hope that we shall be able to reach agreement that the Bottomley Commission Report on the affairs of the House of Commons be referred to a Second Reading Committee. Therefore, we should make early progress on that matter in this Session.

Mr. Tim Renton

I am anxious to help the Leader of the House with his own Back Benchers. But precisely which measures will the Government bring forward this Session if there is a guillotine on the direct elections Bill next week and which measures will they not have time to bring forward if there is no guillotine?

Mr. Foot

Not merely did the question not assist me, but I do not think that it assists anyone else. I repeat, we are seeking to carry through the whole programme which we presented to the House and for which the House voted at the beginning of the Session. The time that has already been taken on the European direct elections Bill, plus the time that is made available under the timetable motion, would be just a little more than the time that we had originally thought to be necessary for the purpose.

[column 674]

Mr. Thorne

As the Government have been promised the support of the Opposition for a guillotine on an anti-Labour European direct elections Bill, will the Leader of the House re-appraise his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton) in regard to an early debate on Early-Day Motion No. 155?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend came with others of my hon. Friends on the deputation about Early-Day Motion No. 155 and put his views most forcibly. I have nothing to add to what I have already said.

On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, it is not true in any sense whatsoever that we have any undertaking from the official Opposition how they would vote on the timetable motion. That is a matter for them.

Mr. Newens

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in reply to a question which I put to him, intimated that he would give further consideration and, I take it, make his views known to the House, to whether it would be possible for us to discuss the supply of arms to El Salvador, which has given rise to concern on both sides of the House. Is it possible for the Leader of the House to make known to the House the results of his consideration?

Mr. Foot

Further to that point of order. In reply to my hon. Friend, I can say that the Foreign Office is issuing a statement on this matter. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will be interested to see it. We have acted partly in response to representations made by the House and by my hon. Friend. The Government's view is that that contract should be cancelled. My hon. Friend will see what is proposed by the Foreign Office on the matter.