BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
May I ask Michael Footthe Lord President the business for next week, please?
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 22nd May—Supply [16th Allotted Day]: a debate on the pay of the Armed Forces, on a motion to reduce the salary of the Secretary of State.
Motion on the Financial Assistance for Industry (Increase of Limit) Order.
Tuesday 23rd May—Remaining stages of the Home Purchase Assistance and Housing Corporation Guarantee Bill.
Motion on the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 4) Order.
Wednesday 24th May—Motion on EEC document R/3245/77 on liner conferences.
The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed Private Business for consideration at 7 o'clock.
Thursday 25th May—Supply [17th Allotted Day]: a debate on the Army, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order.
Friday 26th May—The House will adjourn for the Spring Holiday until Tuesday 6th June.
I have two questions for the Lord President. First, he will know that there have been many developments in foreign affairs that the House would wish to discuss at some length. Will he therefore arrange for a debate soon after the recess? If he thinks fit to make it a two-day debate, we shall gladly give one of our days towards it. [column 776]
Secondly, is the Leader of the House aware that it is not possible for us to ratify the international convention against pollution by oil from ships until we have had a new merchant shipping Act? That was promised in the Gracious Speech, but it has not yet been introduced. We can hardly criticise other nations for not observing these matters when we drag our feet on our own legislation. When does the Leader of the House expect to introduce that Bill?
On the first matter, I thank the right hon. Lady for her offer of a Supply Day and make clear our immediate acceptance of such generosity. Of course I agree that it would be a good idea for the House at an early stage soon after the recess to have a two-day debate in the light of that suggestion.
On the second point, we indicated that we wished to introduce a merchant shipping Bill in this Session if possible, or at any rate as soon as possible. As the House is well aware, a Bill is fully prepared for introduction as soon as we have the chance. However, we cannot bring it forward in this Session, but we shall bring it forward in the next Session.
Am I right in supposing that in Tuesday's business what my right hon. Friend called the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 4) Order amounts to the ratification of direct elections to the EEC? If it does, will my right hon. Friend say whether that is a motion which the House can debate and on which it can divide?
I doubt whether I would describe the order as a ratification, but it certainly carries further the procedure of direct elections following upon the passage of the European Assembly Elections Act.
There is an explanatory note on the schedule, although I must admit that the note is not as elaborate as some might wish. I am therefore making arrangements that an explanatory memorandum on the explanatory memorandum on the explanatory note is to be placed in the Library. I hope that that will assist my hon. Friends. The motion will be one to approve the order, and the House will therefore be able to give its decision on the matter.
If, as I believe to be the case, all the major parties in the [column 777]House are in favour of increased representation for Northern Ireland, will the Government introduce immediately, as a matter of justice and fair play to the people of Northern Ireland, legislation to increase the representation before the next General Election?
The exchanges that have already taken place on this matter have made clear that I should like the Bill to be introduced. Whether that happened in this or the next Season, it could not be introduced before the next General Election in any case. Therefore I do not have anything to add to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a few weeks ago, when he made the announcement about the acceptance of the principle of the Speaker's Conference.
Has my right hon. Friend had time to study the three Early-Day Motions on the Order Paper—Nos. 315, 427 and 429—signed by hon. Members of all parties, about the proposal to close the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital? Will he try to arrange for a debate so that this deplorable decision can be further considered? Will he discuss with his right hon. Friends the possibility of a public inquiry?
[That this House welcomes the overwhelming support shown by national and local organisations including trade unions, during the consultative procedure on the future of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital; draws the attention of the Secretary of State to the fact that his predecessor accepted the necessity for the continuation of this unique facility; therefore urges him to make resources available to enable this hospital to resume normal service on its present site, at least until such time as a satisfactory alternative arrangement can be made; and in view of the demoralising protracted delay in reaching a decision on this matter, urges the Secretary of State to make his views knows as early as possible.]
[That this House rejects the decision of the Secretary of State for Social Services to close Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in July; and calls on him to reverse his action in the light of the needs of women patients as expressed by everyone who works and is treated in the Hospital, all the unions concerned, the patients themselves and the general [column 778]public, and the unanimous vote of the Labour Women's Conference at South-port that the Hospital should be kept open.]
[That this House notes with regret that the closure of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital was announced outside the House of Commons in direct breach of an undertaking given to the honourable Members for Camden, St. Pancras North, Camden, Holborn and St. Pancras South and Camden, Hampstead; and that notification of such closure was not given to the honourable Members mentioned beforehand and that such closure is in direct contradiction to the statement of the Secretary of State and his predecessor that no closure would take place until such a unit were to be satisfactorily situated within a district general hospital in the same area.]
I have taken note of the motions on the Order Paper on this matter, and in particular the question of the manner of the announcement. It appears that there is some serious misunderstanding in this matter. I shall make inquiries into that aspect of it. On the general question, I cannot promise a debate, but I recognise the strength of feeling in many parts of the House, and we shall have to see whether further discussion can take place on it.
Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to correct what I think was a slip of the tongue in his reply to the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder)? He said “introduced” when I think he intended to say “effected” .
Has he received any approach from the official Opposition with a view to arranging a debate at an early date upon the subject, of which he acknowledged the importance last week, of the past and future consequences of New Commonwealth immigration, or is the interest of the official Opposition in this subject to remain a brief and embarrassed interlude?
On the first matter, I must thank the right hon. Gentleman for his correction of my statement. He is quite right. On the second matter, I do not think that I or anyone else could improve on the language that he has used to describe the situation.[column 779]
Will the Leader of the House arrange a short debate on the European Communities working document No. R 497/77 concerning Community action in the cultural sector most of which is very good stuff. But is he aware that the section dealing with public lending right is quite unacceptable and that the House should have an opportunity to express its view on this matter and other matters touched upon in the document?
I shall look into the possibility of a debate on this matter. In doing so I shall take account of the recommendation of the Scrutiny Committee.
On the general question of the Public Lending Rights Bill, we believe that the best way to proceed—certainly far better than anything proposed by the EEC—is to get through the House the Bill which the Government presented on this matter and which still remains our policy.
Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
I return to the question raised by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger). I ask the Leader of the House to give more attention to the breach of faith that is represented by the closure of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital. Many hon. Members feel that they were deceived about this matter. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State comes to the House to answer questions instead of hiding behind a planted written Question?
I do not accept the term “breach of faith” and I would have thought that the answer that I have already given to the House indicates how seriously I take the motion on the Order Paper. I believe that we must examine this matter, and that it is better to approach it in that way, rather than commenting upon the hon. Member's words.
Will the Leader of the House give a date for further discussion in this House on the Scotland Bill so that we can repair the damage that has been done in another place?
Secondly, in view of the disgraceful decision to detrunk the A92 and the Government's failure to invest adequately in roads in Northern Scotland, will the right hon. Member allow us to debate this matter urgently in the near future?[column 780]
I repudiate what the hon. Member says in the second part of his question.
On the first part, of course, when the Scotland Bill comes back to the House, the Government will examine all the amendments that were added in another place. We shall examine these most carefully and present our considered views to the House. I have no doubt that there are a considerable number of amendments that this House will not be prepared to accept.
In view of the fact that the report of the Select Committee on European Legislation on Community document No. R3245/77 on liner conferences has not yet been published, and is unlikely to be published until some time next week, will the Leader of the House look at the desirability of debating it on Wednesday? We took a great deal of evidence in the Select Committee and the House should have an opportunity to see that before coming to any conclusion.
I shall look into this. I hope that we shall make some progress with the document on Wednesday, but I shall look at all the considerations.
Sir Frederic Bennett
The Leader of the House will be aware of the answer to the Private Notice Question yesterday about the position of British subjects in Southern Zaire at present. The situation seems to have deteriorated since then. If the Leader of the House is not in a position to say something now, will he arrange for a statement by the Foreign Secretary early next week to assure us that we are in at least as good a position as the French, the Belgians and the Americans for evacuating British subjects who may be involved disastrously in events in Zaire?
The Foreign Secretary and the Government are very much concerned about the situation in Zaire and are doing everything they can to protect British citizens in this situation. I will consider whether a statement should be made at the beginning of next week.
In view of the fact that the business on Tuesday night appears to be to ratify the Act of the Community of 20th September 1976 on direct elections, would it not be more appropriate [column 781]to lay this as a later order, after both the salaries of MPs to that Assembly are agreed and the boundaries, which have been announced provisionally, are finally agreed or published by the Boundary Commission?
I know that those matters were discussed in the House before, but that is not a reason for holding up this order. There will be a later stage when some of those other matters can be discussed.
Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to ensure that when we come to the Report stage of the House of Commons (Administration) Bill, hon. Members will not be inhibited in tabling amendments on matters that are strictly the concern of the House? An example is the scope of amendments on inclusion in the estimate provided by the House of Commons Commission on Members' secretaries' salaries.
That would carry the Bill considerably further. I shall look at that point, but I am doubtful whether that is the best way of dealing with it. The Services Committee report, which will be presented to the House very soon, is a better way to approach Members' secretaries' salaries. I am doubtful whether that further question could be introduced into the House of Commons (Administration) Bill.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a full debate on unemployment as soon as possible? In view of the difficulties experienced in bringing industry to Merseyside, will he investigate the allegations of the Government's demand for a forward commitment to 1982 on pay policy, because this will discourage completely the establishment of industry and new jobs on Merseyside and in other areas?
I do not believe that my hon. Friend should jump to the conclusion that the second matter he raised will have the effect that he describes. Discussions are still proceeding and they could reach a conclusion beneficial to both Merseyside and the country as a whole.
On the first matter that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members from Liverpool have raised—that we should have a debate on unemployment in Merseyside [column 782]at an early stage—we are considering how best to approach a fairly early date for discussions on unemployment generally.
The Leader of the House will recall that last week I mentioned that recently it had been revealed that 40 Argentinians had been occupying Thule, a British territory in part of the Falkland Islands dependency. Last week, in a Written Answer, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that the British Government had known about this since December 1976. Surely it is the duty of any Foreign Secretary, when an infringement of British sovereignty takes place, to come to the House and inform us of the situation and tell us what action he will take.
The hon. Member has put this matter to me in a most reasonable manner. There are Oral Questions down to the Foreign Secretary on this subject next week. That is the best way to proceed. I understand the desire of the House to put questions on this issue, and I assure hon. Members that the Foreign Secretary has no desire to avoid them.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's undertaking that he will try to reopen discussions on the elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital. I hope that he will not close his mind to the possibility of a debate on the Floor of the House to give us and the public an opportunity to hear the views of the unions, the staff, the patients and the public against the closure.
I cannot promise a debate in the immediate future. There are other opportunities for raising such matters in a debate which some hon. Members may wish to take in the near future. I suggest that first of all I should carry out the undertaking that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras South (Mrs. Jeger) and see how we can proceed from there.
Could the right hon. Gentleman explain why we are not to have a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Immigration and Race Relations before we rise for the Spring Recess? As the Home Secretary has made it clear that the Government are not prepared to accept that report, would he at some time explain to his new-found ally, the right hon. Member for Down, [column 783]South (Mr. Powell), that it is not from the Opposition Benches but from the Government Benches that the opposition to that report comes?
One reason that we are not having a debate on that subject is that the official Opposition have not asked for it.
On the question raised by the Leader of the Opposition about a new merchant shipping Act, may I call my right hon. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 419 on the restriction of the size of oil tankers, signed by myself and some of my hon. Friends? Before further misery occurs and further destruction of the environment, may we have a debate on this whole subject so that people all over the country know that we feel deeply about it and are trying to rectify the situation? Will my right hon. Friend look very closely at the content of that Early-Day Motion?
[That this House, deeply aware of the recent horrific effects on both British and Northern French coasts of oil pollution from oil tanker disasters, calls on the British Government speedily to initiate a major campaign to bring about international agreement on restricting the size of oil tankers, to ensure that any future catastrophes will be correspondingly smaller and less dangerous to the environment.]
I certainly undertake to do exactly as my hon. Friend has asked and to consider that motion carefully. I entirely understand and share the concern expressed by all those who have signed the motion about the recent oil pollution on the coast of East Anglia. It is important not to exaggerate the scale of this incident—the extent of the pollution is in no way comparable with that resulting from some earlier disasters—but that is no reason for not paying the greatest possible attention to what has occurred. I promise that I shall do so.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) is entirely unsatisfactory? Does he not realise that one of the main points here in connection with the Falkland Islands is why the Government have kept this matter dark for 18 months? It is [column 784]not good enough to say that because they have kept it dark that long, it does not matter if it waits another week.
What I am saying to the hon. Gentleman, as I said to the House as a whole, is that I fully accept that the House has an interest in the matter. I said, as I think the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) accepted, that the best way to proceed now is with the Oral Questions which can be put to the Foreign Secretary next week. No doubt my right hon. Friend will give a considered reply to any hon. Member who raises that question then.
Mr. Raphael Tuck
Has my right hon. Friend yet addressed himself to the unfortunate situation which arose last week, when six Members of this House were prevented from voting in the European Assembly because they had to be here? If he has so addressed himself, has he evolved any plan to obviate that situation in future?
My hon. Friend not only raised the matter but came to discuss it with me in, as everyone would expect, a most courteous manner. As I had to explain to him, part of the difficulty arises from the fact that the House of Commons has decided that its Members for a considerable period shall operate in two different Assemblies. That gives rise to considerable difficulties. I am sure that we must seek to ensure as far as we can that the proper respect and supremacy of this House shall be sustained.
Bearing in mind today's savage sentence of seven years' hard labour imposed by the Soviet authorities on Dr. Yuri Orlov and the fact that hon. Members in all parts of the House are concerned about great abuses of human rights in the Soviet Union, is it not high time that the right hon. Gentleman arranged for the House to debate the problem of human rights in the Soviet Union and elsewhere?
I certainly share without qualification the horror at the individual case which the Prime Minister expressed earlier today. I am sure that is the feeling of the vast majority, if not the almost unanimous opinion, of people in this country. Of course this is an important aspect of foreign policy. The [column 785]Prime Minister put the matter in perspective. I think that it will figure in the debate on foreign policy which I expect we shall be having fairly soon after our return from the recess. It obviously enters into that debate.
Mr. John Mendelson
May I urge my right hon. Friend to give an early reply—possibly next week at Business Question Time—to the request for a debate on foreign affairs in general? Is it not becoming more and more obvious that, because of the many items concerning the Common Market that the House has to debate, the impression is given that Britain has almost no other international relations at all? Since we are now approaching the special United Nations session on disarmament, will my right hon. Friend make an announcement before we adjourn on this matter?
As I said in response to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, I think that there should be a debate on foreign affairs at an early stage. That, under the arrangements that we have been suggesting, would be a two-day debate, which would give plenty of opportunity for wide discussion. It is certainly not the Government's view that the important questions concerned are solely European affairs. There are great issues in Africa. There are great questions of our association with the United States. There are important questions, above all perhaps, about our approach to disarmament in different forms. That is one of the reasons that, at the forthcoming meeting of the United Nations, the British Government will be making a major statement on the subject.
Will the right hon. Gentleman elucidate his replies to the hon. and right hon. Members who sit for the county of Down? Do the Government intend, or do they not, to legislate in the present Session or in this Parliament to implement the recommendations of your Conference, Mr. Speaker, on increasing the representation of Northern Ireland in this House?
I certainly think that it is possible that we could have legislation on that subject in this Parliament, but what has already been indicated is that it would be extremely difficult to have that legislation in this Session.[column 786]
Will my right hon. Friend give time in the near future so that we may give further consideration to the Private Members' Bills introduced by our hon. Friends the Members for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) and Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) to amend the Employment Protection Act? As my hon. Friend knows, this is of great concern to the TUC.
I certainly accept that those two of my hon. Friends and my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) have introduced Bills of considerable importance to the country as a whole. I should like to see all those Bills upon the statute book, but I do not have any fresh statement to make now about their progress. I believe that when we return after the recess those matters will have to be considered further.
Reverting to the Scotland Bill, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when we may expect that rather bedraggled measure back again? Since many of the amendments made in the other place were on matters which were not properly debated in this House because of the guillotine, will the hon. Gentleman give an absolutely firm assurance that there will be proper time to debate them, and no guillotine?
The House must consider the Bill when it comes back from another place. I think that the House may also wish to take note of the fact that another place managed to discuss the whole Bill in slightly less time than this House took to discuss the Bill under the timetable motion. That is a factor which might be taken into account.
Some of the amendments made in the other place, I believe, would not be acceptable to this House, but we shall consider them all carefully. What the Government are determined to do is to see that that Bill gets through this House and on the statute book in this Session. We have no doubt that in doing so we are carrying out the pledge we made to the people of Scotland and are responding to the mood of the people of Scotland, which has been sustained consistently from that time to this.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that some of us are anxious [column 787]to debate the Select Committee report on immigration, from the Indian subcontinent in particular, precisely because it brings no consolation to the right hon. Member for Down, South, (Mr. Powell)—or, as we would try to show, to the Leader of the Opposition? In fact, it is not the case that the Home Secretary has replied to that report. He has replied to three parts of it, about one of which he was totally unclear, and the other two of which he seemed to reject. However, the Home Secretary himself believed that we should have a debate, so may we have it as soon as possible?
I understand my hon. Friend's desire and the desire of many other hon. Members that the House should debate this subject. I am not saying that such a debate would not be desirable, but there are many competitors for debate. I cannot accept my hon. Friend's comment about the statement which was made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I think that it was most valuable from the point of view of the community of this country and for good race relations that my right hon. Friend's statement was made at an early date so that some matters which seemed to be obscure could be clarified.
Several Hon. Members
Order. I shall call only those hon. Members who have been rising to their feet.
Mr. Michael Morris
Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the Secretary of State for the Environment to find out why he is sitting on the report of the review of the Rent Act, and will he bring forward to the House before the Summer Recess either a Green Paper or a White Paper—or certainly a report?
I shall certainly have a word with my right hon. Friend, but I cannot promise that I shall make a statement in the form which the hon. Gentleman seeks. I accept the invitation that I should have a conversation with my right hon. Friend on the subject.
Mr. Hugh Jenkins
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 422, which calls for an inquiry into hormone pregnancy test drugs? The motion is signed by hon. [column 788]Members in all parts of the House, some of whom have constituents with children who have been born seriously deformed following the prescribing of pregnancy test drugs to their mothers. Does he agree that an urgent inquiry should take place into this matter? The Secretary of State for Social Services, for reasons best known to himself, has refused an inquiry. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House provide time in the House for a debate so that we may discover why the right hon. Gentleman will not agree to such an inquiry? Failing that, perhaps in private conversation with the Secretary of State for Social Services the Leader of the House could persuade him to change his mind.
[That this House notes that children have been born with serious deformities due to hormone pregnancy test drugs; that no official warnings were issued about these drugs until eight years after the first reports indicating the possible dangers; that some doctors continued to prescribe the drugs for pregnant women after official warnings of the Committee on Safety of Medicines; that the Department of Health and Social Security have continuously rejected requests for an inquiry into these matters; and now calls upon the Secretary of State to set up an independent public inquiry.]
My hon. Friend is aware that this matter has been fully discussed in parliamentary Questions and in correspondence with my hon. Friend and others. I am sure that the Ministers concerned are not withholding any of the relevant facts on the alleged connection between these tests and congenital abnormalities, nor in regard to the way the matter was handled from 1967 onwards.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is doubtful whether there would be any purpose in having such an inquiry as has been suggested, but I shall take account of what my hon. Friend said and see whether there is any other way in which further progress can be made. I cannot promise a debate at the moment.
On the subject of the liner conference directive, does the right hon. Gentleman agree, as he has already half indicated, that it is impossible for hon. Members to undertake the necessary documentary preparation on this weighty and important matter? Will he give [column 789]earnest reconsideration to the point made by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper)? Does he agree that he still gives the impression that he wishes to deal with EEC items in a cavalier and haphazard way, not giving sufficient attention to the timing and preparation of such documents as they come forward from the Scrutiny Committee? Will he also guarantee that he will give adequate time to discuss the directive on doorstep selling when it is presented to the House, in a debate lasting at least three hours?
As I promised earlier, I shall examine the position on that document, although I still hope that we shall be able to have the debate at the time I have suggested. I think that we are in accord with the recommendation made by the Scrutiny Committee. I must inform the hon. Gentleman, who knows a great deal about these matters because he has accorded them special attention, that I repudiate the idea that the Government have dealt in a cavalier manner with these matters. I always acknowledge that there are difficulties in dealing with them, but on each occasion when the all-party Committee has examined the subject, so far from its Members saying that we have treated the matter in a cavalier manner, they have congratulated us on the consideration we have given to these matters. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we constantly give our attention to them. I do not say that we have by any means a perfect system, but that arises from the nature of the difficulty and not from any carelessness on our part.
Mr. Arthur Latham
Is there any possibility of a statement being made to explain how, without his previous knowledge or consent, my right hon. Friend's name was attached to a threat of legal action against me for defamation and how invoked in that threat were also the names of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary, the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London and many others, including you, Mr. Speaker? Is it not quite improper that attempts should be made, in the names of the Church Commissioners, to silence an hon. Member of this House in his criticism? Will my right hon. Friend take steps to achieve the dismissal of the employees responsible?[column 790]
I shall examine the proposition made by my hon. Friend at the end of his remarks. As he is fully aware, there are a number of members of the Government who are ex officio Church Commissioners, but that does not mean that in any sense of the word they have had any responsibility for the operation of these matters. It may be that there should be a reorganisation of the whole way in which the Church Commissioners operate on their account and for other reasons. My hon. Friend is also aware—and I have had recent correspondence with him on the subject—that I hope that these matters can be dealt with without resort to legal action. I did not think that that was the right way to proceed, and I hope that the matter will not be dealt with in the courts. I think that these are matters for political debate.
Now that we have had a firm ruling from the Government that the salaries of directly elected Members of the European Assembly, if any, are subject to United Kingdom tax, before the debate on Tuesday night, whether or not the House ratifies the Bill, will the Government assure the House that they will resist in the Council of Ministers any proposal by the European Community that these salaries should be free of tax? We should like a firm assurance before ratification that the Government will oppose any such idea.
General indications have been given to the House on the subject of these salaries and how they should be settled. I very much doubt whether that question arises in the light of Tuesday's debate. The hon. Gentleman has given us due warning and we must take account of it.
When do the Government intend to publish their long-awaited and long-trailed White Paper on industrial democracy, and will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it will be debated before the House rises for the Summer Recess?
I very much hope that there will be a statement to the House next week on publication of a White Paper on the subject. It is an important document, and the House will wish to consider how next it wants to proceed.