BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
May I ask Michael Footthe Leader of the House to state the business for next week, please?
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
As the House is aware, the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech will be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 9th November.
Friday 10th November—Second Reading of the Public Lending Right Bill.
Monday 13th November—Second Reading of the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Bill.
As the Public Lending Right Bill was included in the first Gracious Speech of this Parliament, and that was the last we heard of it, may I express the hope that this time it will get through, as the Lord President, after the end of this Session, may have need of the benefits that it will confer?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her support on all those various counts, and I think it is a fine example of the persistence of this Government that if at first we did not succeed, we are trying and trying again. I know that the right hon. Lady is very sensitive about any Scottish reference, but I hope that she will not mind that one.
Mr. David Steel
May I ask the Leader of the House the question I raised yesterday about the form of the debate on Rhodesia? He will be aware that the official Opposition have indicated that they are tabling an amendment on the current situation in Rhodesia, which is a quite different matter from the Bingham report. Surely it is right not only that we should be able to express views on the Bingham report during a general [column 174]debate on Rhodesia but that the House should be given the chance, if we wish to do so after we have listened to the debate, to press for a further inquiry. Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that an amendment of that kind will be possible, possibly by the suspension of the 10 o'clock rule?
The question of the calling of amendments and what amendments are in order or out of order is not one that the Government decide; it is decided by Mr. Speaker. I am fully aware of the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman and others in the House yesterday, but I believe that the provision of time during the debate on the Gracious Speech, when these matters can be debated, is the first opportunity when the House can give a general view on the matter. We should approach the matter in that way.
It does not mean that the House may not return to the matter again later, but I think that we should now proceed on the basis proposed here. We are suggesting that on Tuesday the rule should be suspended, so that there will be plenty of time for Members in all parts of the House to engage in the debate if they wish and to be able to raise all the matters that are in order during the debate on the Gracious Speech.
Mr. William Hamilton
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be an early opportunity to debate, preferably in a two-day debate, the report issued during the Summer Recess by the Select Committee on Procedure?
It is obviously a very important report. I cannot give my hon. Friend an indication of exactly when we shall have a debate upon it, but of course we must give consideration to it.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are reports in the press that the Government intend to turn down the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Land Fund? May we please have a statement to clarify this matter?
The hon. Gentleman will do well to follow the procedure of not believing anything he reads in the press until it is verified from the reputable quarter of this Dispatch Box.[column 175]
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his persistence with public lending right. May we hope that this time round the Leader of the Opposition will manage to corral her filibustering independents into a responsible Lobby?
The right hon. Lady has already offered her support on the Bill, and I think we should accept that offer in the spirit in which she has given it.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House why a gift of arms to Zambia was made before the House of Commons had an opportunity to debate it?
The House of Commons is to have an opportunity to debate it at a very early stage. What the Government did was to stand by their duties and obligations in the matter.
If we should not believe all that we read in the press on the subject of the European monetary system, do the Government intend to publish a paper—white, green or whatever—so that we shall know before we debate the matter what it is that we are talking about?
I am sure that it will be highly desirable that the House should know what it is debating before it debates it. Undertakings have been given that there will be a debate in the House, and, of course, by that time I am sure that my right hon. Friend and others will have seen the information which the Government have put at the disposal of the House, and I believe that they will be satisfied that the Government have met that obligation too.
Will the Lord President accept that what he said just now in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) is a classic example of how this House, far from controlling the Executive, is now totally controlled by the Executive? When my right hon. Friend raised the question with you, Mr. Speaker, you quite rightly and obviously stated that you were not able to choose, and were in no way responsible for choosing the subjects for debate. So we then went to the fount of all wisdom. My right hon. Friend asked the Lord President whether he would do something about it, but he said “It has nothing to do with me.” This [column 176]matter can go on being tossed backwards and forwards for ever. No one will ever accept responsibility.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman of what the allegation is. The allegation is that there is a conspiracy between the two Front Benches of this House to ensure that the House of Commons never gets to the bottom of having been grossly misled by successive Governments. That is the allegation. When will the right hon. Gentleman let us debate it?
The allegation, in my judgment, is absolutely baseless. Certainly there has been no understanding between the Government and the Opposition Front Bench as to how we should express a view on this matter. What the hon. Gentleman is doing, if anyone were to believe him, is spreading rumours about these matters which are completely false.
Pull the other one.
That is a more articulate interruption than we usually have from the hon. Gentleman. I advise him that in my judgment it is quite wrong to spread the tale that the Executive are in control of Parliament in these matters. That is not the case. What the Government have decided and what will happen during the coming days is that, at the earliest possible opportunity after the return of this Parliament, there will be discussions on the matter during which Members in different parts of the House will be able to express their views as freely and lengthily as the time provides. Indeed, a considerable amount of time is provided for this purpose.
When those views have been expressed, the Government will certainly take them into account, and, of course, we shall have to make our own judgment and bring that back to the House as well. Therefore, the idea that the Executive is controlling Parliament in this matter and not the other way round is, as I said, completely misleading.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that, in this situation as in all others, if the Opposition Front Bench pushed for a separate debate on Bingham with all their might there would be a separate debate? Whether or not there is a conspiracy between the two Front Benches, it seems to me that there certainly is a conspiracy in the Tory Party [column 177]not to have this matter dealt with separately and for a full public inquiry to follow. Is it not time, however, that my right hon. Friend took appropriate steps to ensure that this took place?
That is a different matter and one that will be a subject for debate both within the Labour Party and within the House of Commons as to what should be determined in the future. But during the debates upon the Gracious Speech the Opposition have a perfect right to put their views as to what should be debated in the form in which they wish to see it debated. That is something that has happened in the House of Commons for generations, and I believe that it is perfectly proper. But it is quite misleading to suggest that the House of Commons will not have a full opportunity to debate this matter and to give its views, and the Government will, of course, take account of those views.
Several Hon. Members
Order. I propose to call the three hon. Members who have been standing before we move on to the statements.
Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on reintroducing the Public Lending Right Bill? Will he confirm that on this occasion it will be taken at prime Government time? When will the Second Reading take place?
I have already announced that Second Reading will be taking place on Friday next week, so we are proceeding quickly. This is a Government measure and we hope that it will have the full backing of all parts of the House, as it has had before. I have every hope that we can get it on to the statute book at an early date.
There are two ministerial statements today about important events that occurred during the recess. Can the Lord President arrange for the Secretary of State for Industry to make a full statement about another important event—the Peugeot-Citroen takeover of Chrysler—because the press statements from that Department during the recess were rather unforthcoming?[column 178]
I cannot accept the criticisms made by the hon. Gentleman of the statements made by my right hon. Friend on the subject. I will certainly see whether there should be a special statement, but I am doubtful whether that should be the case, and, of course, we have to take into account—in order to suit the convenience of the House and not merely of individuals concerned—that if one has too many statements it eats up too much of the rest of parliamentary time.
Will my right hon. Friend be making an early statement on the action he proposes to take on the Select Committee's report which deals with the medical and health coverage for hon. Members of this House?
Yes. We have not had a further meeting of the Services Committee and those concerned, but I hope that we shall be able to make an early statement.