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 20th February.—Second Reading of the Home Purchase Assistance and Housing Corporation Bill and of the Employment Subsidies Bill.
Tuesday 21st February.—Supply [8th Allotted Day]: there will be a debate on taxation, on an Opposition motion.
Debate on the Seventh Report from the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) in Session 1976–77 on Members' secretaries and research assistants.
Wednesday 22nd February.—Third Reading of the Scotland Bill.
Thursday 23rd February.—Supply [9th Allotted Day]: debate on “Developments in the European Communities July-December 1977” , Command No. 7100.
Second Reading of the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill [Lords] and of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provision) Bill [Lords], which are consolidation measures.
Motion on EEC Document R/1123/76 on “Conflict of laws on employment relationships in the Community.”
Friday 24th February.—Private Members' Bills.
Monday 27th February.—Supply [10th Allotted Day]: subject for debate to be announced.[column 674]
May I put two points to the right hon. Gentleman? He has been asked on previous occasions whether he would provide a day to debate foreign affairs in general. Assuming that a Rhodesian settlement is to be signed, will he also set aside a full day for a debate on Rhodesia, which would seem to be urgent?
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman will know that yesterday the Government announced in the form of a Written Answer a grant of a further £90 million to the Crown Agents. Surely when a sum of that size is in question, the House has a right to question the Minister about it. Will he arrange for an oral statement to be made next week?
I have nothing further to add to what I said earlier—which I must acknowledge was not immediately hopeful—in regard to a general debate on foreign affairs. As for a special debate on Rhodesia, I would have thought that, in view of the statement made by the Foreign Secretary a few moments ago, it would be advisable to leave a little time before a debate takes place in order to see the exact position. The Opposition have their own opportunities, but I believe we should wait for a little while before it is advisable to have a debate.
On the topic of a statement on the Crown Agents, I shall see whether such a statement can be made next week.
Will my right hon. Friend make a statement next week explaining how he intends to carry out the undertaking that he gave on 28th November to introduce proposals for stronger parliamentary control over EEC legislation?
I cannot promise to make a statement on that subject next week, but I am fully aware of the undertaking I gave during that debate. The Government have given undertakings to bring forward proposals to the House. The undertaking I gave was that we would bring forward fresh proposals during this Session. However, there is still a long time for this Session to go, and I hope that it will be towards the early part of that period rather than the later part.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the long, growing list of Northern Ireland orders awaiting the [column 675]attention of this House? Will it not conduce to the convenience of this House, as well as the proper handling of this business, if he could put forward a plan for dealing with this large mass of orders?
I shall examine the matter afresh in the light of what the right hon. Gentleman said. It is a problem which has faced the House owing to the different situation and relationship between this House and Northern Ireland and which has arisen in the past three or four years. That has given special problems to this House. We have made an attempt to overcome the situation, but I shall see whether we can make further efforts to assist.
Will my right hon. Friend examine Early-Day Motion No. 115 which is in the names of 207 hon. Members on the subject of Windscale? There is pressure in some quarters in response to that motion seeking a full debate in the House before a decision is taken. If there is any suggestion of a cosmetic operation, may I ask my right hon. Friend—and I do not wish to be churlish, in view of his comments on other occasions on this matter—whether he considers that the matter should not be debated by the House fully, because such an important decision is at stake?
[That this House calls on the Secretary of State for the Environment to publish the inspector's report on the Windscale Inquiry so that the issues may be debated in this House before any Ministerial decision is taken.]
I am not interested in any cosmetic operation, as I said in response to the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) last week. The right hon. Gentleman, with his ministerial knowledge of how these matters were dealt with, acknowledged the difficulties. I hope I was forthcoming on that occasion by saying that we were looking for methods by which we could overcome the difficulties. I appreciate the point that is being underlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), and I assure him that we are seeking to overcome the difficulties.
Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to Early-Day Motion No. 159, signed by a large num[column 676]ber of hon. Members, concerning the effect of the Northern Ireland firearms order which aims at putting up fees for firearms by 90 per cent.? Will the right hon. Gentleman find time to debate this matter on the Floor?
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Firearms (Variation of Fees) Order (Northern Ireland) 1977 (S.R. & O. (N.I.), 1977, No. 360), dated 15th December 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th December 1977, be annulled.]
I cannot promise time to debate the matter on the Floor of the House, but I shall examine afresh the matter put to me by the hon. Gentleman.
Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that, if there is to be a Third Reading of the Scotland Bill next Wednesday, he will not immediately propose to introduce the Wales Bill, thus enabling other matters concerning other parts of the United Kingdom to be discussed on the Floor of the House—for example, the situation in the British motor car industry?
I know that there are a whole host of matters that the House wishes to discuss. I have already indicated when announcing business for next week that there are important matters to be discussed, apart from these legislative proposals. We are not suggesting that we should embark on the Wales Bill immediately after Wednesday of next week. But we are committed to carrying through that measure this Session and propose to take steps to that effect.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the book “The Pencourt File” contains evidence that casts doubt on the propriety of the actions of the Secretary of State for Social Services in his official capacity in relation to certain files? Is it not important to clear up this matter? Is there any reason why it should not be cleared up by the Leader of the House inviting his right hon. Friend to come to the House next week and make a statement?
I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already dealt with this question in a satisfactory manner.[column 677]
Will my right hon. Friend say when the House can expect publication of the long-promised Bill to reorganis the electricity supply industry? Is it true that the Bill is being held up because of objections to it by the Liberal Party?
I understand my hon. Friend's interest in the matter. It is a Bill that was indicated in the Queen's Speech. I hope that a Bill will be coming forward.
The right hon. Gentleman no doubt will be aware that there is considerable public support for the Protection of Children Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). Is he also aware that the Bill received a Second Reading last Friday, unopposed? He will know that there is considerable backing among Private Members for the Bill, but that it is not likely to reach its Committee stage for some time. Bearing in mind the precedent that certain Private Members' Bills have been allotted Government time, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, because of public concern, to give Government time to this most important measure?
I read an account of what happened to that Bill, although I was not present for the debate last Friday. I fully accept the wide interest which has been expressed in that measure. It is not a question of the allocation of Government time. If the hon. Gentleman would like to come and discuss the matter with me, I shall do what I can to assist in accordance with the normal procedure.
In view of last night's regrettable and disgraceful decision in the House by which every Scottish elector had his vote devalued, does the right hon. Gentleman now propose to introduce a Bill that will place Scottish electors on a separate roll in which every Member of Parliament elected from Scotland will require a 40 per cent. vote?
I regret the decision taken by the House yesterday, but the House did in fact take that decision. I suggest that we come along to the House next Wednesday and do our best to rectify part of the situation then.
Mr. Norman Atkinson
On the subject of Windscale, will my right hon. Friend accept that the majority opinion in the [column 678]House is to recognise the legal difficulties that face my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for the Environment—problems which are created because the matter involves a planning application and the presentation of a report? Will my right hon. Friend consider the separation of the legal issues from the real question which this House would like to discuss—that is, the question of the safe disposal of nuclear waste and the transportation of nuclear materials?
In regard to nuclear material, is it not possible for the Leader of the House to put before the House suitable means by which we would be able to debate the matter so that we may come to a sensible conclusion before the Secretary of State for the Environment comes to the House to make a report on the legal matters that arise?
I am not sure whether separation can be brought about in exactly that way. I assure my hon. Friend, as I assured my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), that we are examining the matter to see how best we can ensure that the House is given some opportunity to put forward its views.
Mr. Michael Latham
Is it not true that the Scotland Bill has been a total shambles for the Government all the way through and that the best thing would be to kill it next Wednesday? Do the Government realise that on the Wales Bill on a free vote they would be lucky to obtain 20 votes?
The hon. Gentleman and the House must take account of the fact that there was a good majority for the Second Reading of the Scotland Bill and I am sure that there will be a good majority for the Third Reading. That is the matter to which I was referring a minute ago and which, apparently, gave rise to some anxiety in the mind of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). I am suggesting that the House should carry the Bill on Third Reading. The more speedily that we can proceed, the sooner the Scottish people will have the chance, under the referendum, to give their view.
As for the Wales Bill, the Government are committed to it and we certainly intend to introduce it, to do our best to carry it on the statute book and to give [column 679]the people of Wales the opportunity to decide the matter in the end.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that for some years, regional debates were held on the Floor of the House? As an experiment, they were taken upstairs in Committee, but it is a long time since a debate took place upstairs. In view of the importance of regional problems at present, will he consider examining the possibility of reintroducing these debates, preferably on the Floor of the House?
I shall look at what my hon. Friend has said, though I cannot promise that we shall be able to offer time for a debate in the next few weeks. I hope that the debates in Committee will proceed. Of course, there are other debates on which many of these matters can be raised. Indeed, there is a debate next week on one aspect of employment policy and I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will seize that opportunity to put their case. Of course, when we come to the Budget, there will be considerable time to discuss many of these matters, but I am not rejecting my hon. Friend's proposal on that count.
Several Hon. Members
Order. I must be mindful of the fact that the following business is covered by a timetable motion. I shall call four of the hon. Members who have been seeking throughout to catch my eye.
Mr. Jasper More
Is it not clear that the Leader of the House should reconsider the terms of his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) in regard to the Secretary of State for Social Services? When such allegations have been made publicly in a national newspaper and if legal proceedings are not to be taken, would it not be right for the Leader of the House or the Prime Minister to come here and say what is to be done to clear up this matter?
If we were to come to the House to comment on every foolish tale in the newspapers, we should not have time to comment on anything else.
Mr. Wyn Roberts
The House will have 10 days to discuss the Wales Bill, but will the right hon. Gentleman give [column 680]urgent and serious consideration to the proposal that we should have a Welsh day on the Floor of the House? We have not had such a day since 5th November 1976 and Welsh problems have intensified greatly since then.
I know the commitment about Welsh debates. We shall be having debates in the Wales Bill which will consume some part of the time of the House. The Welsh Grand Committee discusses many important questions. I insist that I am not seeking to alter the arrangements about debates on the Floor of the House, but obviously such a debate cannot take place in the near future.
Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that the Civil Liability (Contribution) Bill received its Second Reading on Friday and will he arrange for early consideration in Committee of this measure, which has all-party support? Will he also reconsider his answers to my hon. Friends the Members for Ludlow (Mr. More) and Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) on the question of a statement by the Secretary of State for Social Services, or does he think that it is important for allegations of this sort to go unanswered?
On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I have nothing to add to what I said before.
On the first part, concerning the passage of his Bill last Friday, very little has been on my mind to compare with that burdensome subject since then.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make time available soon for a debate on the White Paper on airports policy as it would seem that consultations are already going ahead to implement the policy contained in the White Paper without the House having had a chance to debate the policy?
There is a Bill before the House on which discussions have taken place, though I am not saying that it is a substitute for a debate on the White Paper. I should think that some time could pass before we could most profitably have a debate on this whole matter.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask your indulgence because [column 681]I was not able to give you notice of this matter before 12 o'clock today as I was involved in a meeting.
I should like to raise under Standing Order No. 9 a matter that is definite, urgent and of public importance, namely the proposal of British Leyland to close No. 2 plant at Speke, Liverpool, which will throw out of work 3,000 workers in an area which already has 90,000 unemployed.
I wish that I could give the hon. Gentleman leave to make his application, though I am not saying that I would grant it, but the rules of the House provide that notice should have been sent to my office this morning. If an application is not put in before 12 o'clock or does not arise in the course of the day's business, it would be unfair to others for me to allow the application to be made. I should be opening a door that I would never be able to close. This has to be done in the interests of the House, and I regret to say that the hon. Gentleman is unable to pursue the matter in this way, serious as it undoubtedly is.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I say that I only got the notice from British Leyland after 12 o'clock? I did not have it before. I had to see the notice from Leyland before knowing precisely what it was talking about.
We all knew from the national Press this morning. We had the details on the news last night. I want to be fair to the hon. Gentleman, but I must protect the rules of the House, and in this case the hon. Gentleman must seek another opportunity through the Order Paper or in some other way to advance the interests of his constituents in this matter.
I advise the hon. Gentleman to use the normal procedures which are available to him. He could follow up the matter next week at business questions or, possibly, through the usual channels.[column 682]
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not challenging your ruling, but you referred to the fact that this information was in the national newspapers and on the news. That is true, but I do not believe everything I read in the newspapers. I waited because it was important to see precisely what the firm had actually said.
I received the document after 12 o'clock today. It clearly explained the company's point of view on why it was closing the plant. It was on that basis that I sought leave to raise the matter.
I shall not pursue the matter further now, but I shall endeavour to pursue it as hard as I possibly can because I do not think that we can allow 3,000 workers to be thrown out of work in an area of 90,000 unemployed without trying to raise the matter here, which, for me, is the most important place to try to settle matters of this kind.
I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I understand that he feels very strongly about this matter, but he is a good parliamentarian and he acknowledges the difficulty in which I find myself.
Rev. Ian Paisley
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In your ruling, you said that if a matter came to the Floor of the House, it would be in order to make an application under Standing Order No. 9. Has it not now come to the Floor of the House and could not some other hon. Member make such an application?
That is a theological point.