BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
May I ask Michael Footthe Lord President to state 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 4th December—Supply [2nd Allotted Day]: debate on a motion to take note of the 1st to 10th reports from the Committee of Public Accounts in Session 1977–78, and the related Treasury minute and the Northern Ireland memorandum.
Motions on the European Assembly constituencies orders for England, Wales and for Scotland.
Tuesday 5th December—Second Reading of the Education Bill.
Motions on the Social Security (Contribution, Re-rating) Order and on the (Earnings Limits) Amendment Regulations.
Wednesday 6th December—Remaining stages of the Public Lending Right Bill.
Motion on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) (No.2) Order.
Thursday 7th December—Supply [3rd Allotted Day]: the House will be asked [column 702]to agree the Civil and Defence Votes on Account and the Winter Supplementary Estimates.
There will be a debate on the unjust and arbitrary use of sanctions on industry, on a motion for the Adjournment.
Friday 8th December—Private Members' motions.
Monday 11th December—Private Members' motions until seven o'clock.
Afterwards, motions on the Appropriation (No.4) (Northern Ireland) Order and on the Shops (Northern Ireland) Order.
The Lord President will be aware that we used to have the public expenditure White Paper published before Christmas. As it is rather important this year, may we expect to have it before Christmas?
We shall do our best, but I cannot make an absolute promise. I am not at all sure that it will be before Christmas, but I shall look at the point and discuss the matter with the right hon. Lady.
Mr. Raphael Tuck
Did my right hon. Friend see the report in The Times on Monday to the effect that the House would be rising on 15th December? How is it that The Times knows this before hon. Members? Or is it a case of guessing again, rather like the General Election of October this year that never was?
I would not wish, on such a day, to say anything derogatory of The Times. I regard the closure of The Times as a most tragic event. But The Times does not always get its facts right. There has been no decision yet about the time at which we shall rise for the Christmas Recess. I hope that we shall not have to go into the week starting on 18th December, but I cannot be sure.
In view of the decline in the Scottish economy and the vast number of redundancies which are threatened in Scotland, in Massey-Ferguson and in Marathon and the shipbuilding industry in general, will the Leader of the House now set his mind to reconvening the Scottish economy, since that Committee has not met at any stage since he became Leader of the House?[column 703]
I shall look at that question, although I am not sure that that is the best way to deal with the problem.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be inappropriate for a much longer time to elapse before the House has a major and proper opportunity to consider energy policy? May we have a debate in the fairly near future?
I certainly cannot promise it before the Christmas Recess, but I shall bear it in mind amongst the other general topics for which there is strong competition.
Will the Leader of the House give the Opposition Front Bench an opportunity to reconsider the arrangements for Thursday's debate on Ford sanctions so that we could have a motion before the House setting out some alternative policies rather than have a debate on the Adjournment, in which we can all interpret the vote as we choose?
It may be—thought I hope not—that the hon. Gentleman's influence with the Opposition Front Bench is greater than mine.
I was going to ask exactly the same question.
The right hon. Member will get the same answer.
I am happy to give my right hon. Friend the same answer.
But I do not know the Opposition Front Bench like the Liberals do.
Mr. Hugh Jenkins
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on his decision to make rapid progress with the Public Lending Right Bill. Will he consider providing time for a debate before Christmas on early-day motion no. 52 and, in particular, the amendment thereto standing in my name, which is about Maplin Sands and the question of aircraft noise?
[That this House, noting how the operation of the four existing London airports imposes a heavy burden of noise disturbance upon the centres of popula[column 704]tion in or near which they are situated, and that every intensification of their use imposes an additional burden upon that population, deeply regrets that Her Majesty's Government should be proposing yet further expansion of these airports; and declares that there is no acceptable solution of the problem of aircraft noise, in spite of all technical advances and procedural mitigations, except the development of a coastal airport for London.]
I cannot give a promise on the second matter, but I am happy to accept the congratulations on the first.
Mr. St. John-Stevas
In relation to the question of Thursday's business, which has been raised from the Liberal Bench, if the official Opposition table a motion on Thursday may I have an undertaking from the Leader of the House that he will allow us to debate and vote on that motion and will not attempt to amend it?
No such innocent request has ever been put from that Opposition Front Bench.
In view of the interest that the House has in accuracy and in the removal of secrecy where it is totally unnecessary, will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate, next week if possible, on the matters that have just been of interest to the House, in order that we can establish firmly that, whilst police were sent into Tonypandy on that illfamed day, it took another three days for the troops to be sent in and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was somewhat inaccurate in saying that the vendetta was against miners, since among the worst casualties of that day were women and children?
Order. The hon. Gentleman is arguing a case, not putting a question.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for us to have at least a two-day debate on the national interest in the next Session of Parliament, because when Vauxhall and British Leyland have settled above 5 per cent. presumably it will be Government policy that all public corporations should buy foreign cars?[column 705]
All these matters will be open for debate next Thursday, and, I am sure, on future occasions as well.
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
If the Prayer against the television licence order is to be debated within the 40 days, it must be debated during the week after next. Will my right hon. Friend give a categorical assurance that time will be made available during that week for that debate?
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is right about the calculations, but I cannot give such a promise. There is great pressure about the subjects for debate during this period, and many of my hon. Friends must look to the representations which have been made in the last week or two which we are seeking to accommodate.
Mr. Hugh Fraser
It is nearly a fortnight since the Prime Minister informed the House that the Cabinet was considering what further action would be taken on the Bingham report. Has the Leader of the House any statement to make on that?
We are not yet in a position to make a statement, but I hope very much that we shall be able to make a statement on the subject next week.
Will my right hon. Friend consider as a matter of urgency having a debate next week on co-operatives in order to discuss the position of the Co-operative Development Agency and the aspirations of many workers, including those at Tri-ang Pedigree who will lose their jobs, who want to form a co-operative? At the same time we might also discuss the very strange decision to give more money to private enterprise and to hand over the workers' co-operative at KME to its tender mercies instead of going through the NEB. Will my right hon. Friend consider this as a matter of urgency?
I cannot promise the particular debate to which my hon. Friend has referred. But he will know that there have been occasions when these matters have been debated. As to Tri-ang, he will know that discussions are proceeding about any possibility of a co-operative there, although he will also know about the competing demands for those same resources.[column 706]
Mr. Fletcher -Cooke
Will the Leader of the House consider a debate about the fact that we now know that there are 5,000 vacancies for skilled workers in the North-West alone? Will he consider whether we should have an urgent discussion on this extraordinary paradox and on the failure of the training programme, both governmental and private, to produce sufficient skilled workers amidst 1½ million unemployed?
The feature of our industrial situation to which the hon. and learned Gentleman draws attention is a very important one indeed. It is precisely because the Government pay attention to it that over the past three or four years we have asked the House to vote more money for training than ever before in British history. It is because of action taken largely by the Government that we have maintained the training places. It is still not sufficient to meet the demand for skilled workers and, therefore, we must expand those services in the future. But the idea that the Government have not been working on this over the past three or four years is quite false.
When may we expect a statement as to the timetable and legislative intentions of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on archaeological matters?
Not immediately, but I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend in order to secure the most appropriate moment for such a declaration.
Mr. Michael Latham
Will the Secretary of State for the Environment be producing next week either his new order or, alternatively, his Bill of indemnity, to indemnify the staff of the Location of Offices Bureau for the £33,000 illegal expenditure owing to a defective order last year?
I shall have a look into these matters, but I do not think that we can deal with it next week in the way that the hon. Gentleman has suggested.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate in order to discuss the very serious implications for this country's energy policy of the judgment of the European Court at Luxembourg on 14th November, which appears to show that fissile materials in this country[column 707] are owned not by the United Kingdom but by the Community, that they cannot be moved without the consent of the Community and that the Community may, in fact, station troops in this country to protect nuclear establishments?
Whether all those implications follow is another matter, but I agree with my hon. Friend—as I did in response to an earlier question—that such a debate on energy matters generally would be helpful to the House early when we return after Christmas. But I cannot give a definite promise.
Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come to the House next week and make a statement about the urgent matters affecting the fishing industry in Fleetwood and the other deep-sea ports?
The House heard the statement that was made by my right hon. Friend earlier in the week, and I have nothing to add now to what he said then. But, of course, we are fully aware of the interest in the House in relation to this matter.
Mr. William Hamilton
Will my right hon. Friend be a little more clear as to what will flow from the Bingham report? Can he tell the House whether he will be able to make a statement next week, first, as to the composition of the next week, first, as to the composition of the Select Committee and, second, whether the members will have available to them all the documents which they think are relevant to their inquiry?
I hope that the statement which will be made next week will cover all these matters, although my hon. Friend must not jump to conclusions about the nature of that statement before it is made. But I can assure him that I have fully in mind the point which he put to me last week on this subject.
In view of the great importance of the report on Normansfield hospital and the wider issues which that raises, can the Leader of the House assure us that there will be an opportunity to debate that matter?
I am sure that there will be an opportunity for debate, but not in the immediate future.[column 708]
Mr. Christopher Price
Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion no. 93, which is signed by myself and 75 of my hon. Friends, about the Official Secrets Act?
[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government, on a matter of urgency, to fulfil its manifesto commitment to replace the Official Secrets Act by a measure to put the burden on the public authorities to justify withholding information, in the light of the recent official secrets case at the Old Bailey, in which an estimated public expenditure of £250,000 was spent in achieving two conditional discharges and one six-month suspended sentence; and calls upon Mr. Attorney General to clarify his policy on allowing prosecutions for receiving information under section 2 of the Act, in the light of the fact that such charges were allowed in the above cases in spite of the Secretary of State for the Home Department's statement of 22nd November 1976 that the Government no longer regarded receiving official information as an offence.]
Is my right hon. Friend aware that on 19th January, when the Bill of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) comes up, many of us will want to support that Bill? Would it not be more sensible for the Government to maintain their manifesto commitment, take over that Bill and bring forward their own Bill this Session to reform the Official Secrets Act?
I know that there are many competing arguments in this case. The Government have indicated the way in which they will seek to approach the matter in this Session, but I doubt whether that will meet all the desires of my hon. Friend. That is one of the factors which has to be weighed. While I cannot add to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said, I shall certainly draw his attention to the terms of the early-day motion.
Mr. St. John-Stevas
Does the Leader of the House recall the report of the all-party Select Committee on Procedure of February last year, which recommended that in a situation such as Thursday's the House should have an opportunity to vote on the Opposition motion before voting on any Government amendment which might be tabled? Since the Leader of [column 709]the House feels unable to give an undertaking that no amendment will be tabled, does he agree that this procedure recommended to the House by this impartial Committee should be followed on this occasion?
I think that that procedure applies to somewhat different circumstances. I am always happy to listen to the Opposition Patronage Secretary when he intervenes in our debates. However, I happened to overhear him, or perhaps it was his right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), suggest that these were exactly the same circumstances. I do not think that it is the same at all. If the hon. Gentleman examines the facts, I believe he will discover that normally when a motion is put down by the Opposition the Government, if they wish, can exercise their right to put down an amendment. That is not a novelty. It is one of the normal practices of the House.
Mr. St. John-Stevas
Surely the Leader of the House misunderstands the point I am putting. I am not saying that this is a novelty. I am saying that it is a situation which has created problems before, and these problems will arise again on Thursday. In order to enable an Opposition to state their point of view, the Select Committee on Procedure recommended that there should be a vote on the Opposition motion first and then any vote on the Government amendment later. Perhaps the memory of the Leader of the House is not as good as it used to be. May I remind him of the title of the subject from the Select Committee? It is “Voting on Opposition motions on Supply Days.” It is exactly to cover this point that the recommendation was made. Why does not the Leader of the House put the interests of the House before those of his party and agree to follow that procedure?
The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) is inviting me to put the interests of his party before the interests of the House. He is inviting me to do something which, in comparable circumstances, I do not believe would be acceptable to any Government. I fully take into account the fact that it might be desirable to change the procedures of the House. But the procedures of the House have not been [column 710]changed, and what we are doing is quite within practice and according to precedents of the House.
Is not the difficulty in which the House finds itself on this matter a salutary warning against incautious alterations of the time-honoured procedures of the House whereby formerly the Question used to be put on amendments in the form:
“That the words proposed to be left out stand part” ?
Had we not thought ourselves so clever 10 or 12 years ago and altered this, we would not be in this difficulty now. This was a point that those who went before us had well considered.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Member. I am sure that he and I were agreed at the time, and if only our advice had been followed this difficulty might not have arisen. But I remind the hon. Member for Chelmsford that the point he is posing to me is hypothetical in any case. We are dealing with a proposal on the Order Paper put down by the Opposition. Anything else is hypothetical at the moment.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that to announce a 20 per cent. increase in television licences by way of a Written Answer is an abuse of democracy and is government by decree? In view of the fact that Back Benchers have had no opportunity whatsoever to question the Minister responsible or to have any discussions, will he arrange for a debate on the Prayer which has been put down?
I do not believe that this is government by decree. Everybody knows that Governments make announcements to the House in this way. They have to do so. But that does not preclude the possibility of a debate in the House.
Is the Leader of the House aware of the growing anxiety in the West Midlands, particularly within the metropolitan county, about the problems of industrial decline and unemployment? Will he take steps to refer these matters to the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs for detailed consideration?
I would be happy to look at that proposition.[column 711]
I know that my right hon. Friend's first priority is to see that taxpayers' money is given to authors by way of public lending right, but will be deal with the question of when the Civil Service report, published some 15 months ago, will be debated? I would have thought that our recommendations on the necessity to reconstruct the audit of public expenditure were proved to the hilt by now is a variety of circumstances and needed discussion.
Leaving aside my hon. Friend's first comment. I agree that there should be a debate on these matters. There will be a debate on many of these matters very soon, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will contribute to it. In fact, those hon. Members who served on the Committee and other Members who have read the Committee's report will be able to contribute to the discussion.
Is my right hon. Friend seized of the importance of my early-day motion no. 34, signed by 130 hon. Members in all parts of the House, which seeks to do something to help those afflicted by blindness? In view of the fact that it may be difficult to arrange a debate in the near future, will my right hon. Friend undertake to get a Government statement on this matter soon after the recess?
[That this House is deeply concerned about the continuing problems confronting blind people; and, believing that blindness is an extremely severe limiting handicap with resultant problems of mobility and additional living expenses needed to pay for services without which living would be intolerable, is firmly of the opinion that the time has now arrived for Her Majesty's Government to introduce a special blindness allowance for all blind persons over 16 years of age and that such an allowance should be comparable in value with the benefit made available to assist people who cannot walk.]
I shall look into this point. I replied to this matter on 24th October, and I have not much to add to what I said then. However, I shall consult my right hon. Friend to see whether a statement can be made soon after the recess.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when he expects [column 712]to make an announcement about the membership of the House of Commons Commission?
Very soon, I hope. Some discussions are still taking place. I agree that we should get the matter launched. All the procedures have now gone through the House and I hope that we shall be able to make an announcement soon.
Mr. Patrick Jenkin
Will the Leader of the House tell us whether there is any precedent for the Government refusing to give time for a Prayer which has been put down in Opposition Front Bench names? I am referring to the Prayer on the disabled housewives' benefit. The time runs out on Tuesday and no time has been provided for it. Will the right hon. Gentleman repeat on the Floor of the House the undertaking that was given to me yesterday by the Secretary of State for Social Services, that when the matter comes back from the national insurance advisory committee there will be an opportunity for the House to debate and vote on this matter?
I am happy to confirm the undertaking that was given by my right hon. Friend. I do not know the exact terms in which he gave it, but I have listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman has said just now and I certainly agree that this is a matter on which the House should have a chance to decide. The issue is being referred at present to the national insurance advisory committee and we must allow that to proceed first.
Several Hon. Members
I shall call two more hon. Members.
Now that the date for the devolution referendum has been fixed, and since most Scottish and Welsh Members will want to take part—and probably some English Members as well—can my right hon. Friend say whether the House will have any time off during the referendum campaign?
Certainly, we shall take my right hon. Friend's representations into account. I hope that when we come to debate the Christmas Recess Adjournment I shall be able to indicate to the House our conclusions on the question of time off for the referendum.[column 713]
When will the Leader of the House explain the reasons for the confidentiality of the announcement of the date of the recess? When my Bill about official information comes on to the statute book, this will no longer be possible. Until such time, will he accept the great difficulty that this secrecy causes to someone like me who comes top of the Private Members' Ballot and has to choose a date for the Second Reading of his Bill? That date conceivably could fall into the period of the recess and, therefore, I could lose my Bill.
I am not sure whether the hon. Member is inciting me or deterring me from supporting his Bill. One of the reasons for confidentiality on the subject of this date is that we have not decided it yet. That is a very good reason for not letting out the secret.
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is there any way in which we can be protected against the abuse of the negative order procedure whereby Prayers put down to annul orders are refused Government time within the 40 days so that even if there were an adverse vote it would not make any difference to the effectiveness of the order? If Parliament is to have any control over delegated legislation, most of which is by negative order, when a Prayer is put down by a substantial number of Members—and certainly by the Opposition Front Bench—the debate should take place within the 40 days. There should be some way by which the House can bring the Government to order on this matter.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I fully accept the importance of that point. That is one of the reasons for the answer that I gave on that matter to the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin).
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There used to be a commonly accepted custom that sometimes such Prayers could not be taken within the 40 days but would still be taken. Surely, if my right hon. Friend follows past custom, it will not really matter whether the debate is within the technical 40 days or not.[column 714]
That is the point that I was making a minute or two ago.
Mr. St. John-Stevas
When the Government decide the date of return from the recess, could we have an undertaking from the Leader of the House that the important procedural matter which has been raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English)—the important recommendation of the Select Committee—can be debated at a very early date afterwards?
I am prepared to consider whether we should debate that special recommendation. Then all the implications would come out. This is a different matter from the one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). It is an important constitutional question that they have raised, and I am very conscious of it.
At this time of the Session, when no one can say that we are all that busy, unlike June and July when a lot of water comes up against the dam and when the Government's position gets difficult, why cannot we have a debate within the 40 days on a Prayer with a negative resolution?
If the hon. and learned Member examines the business that I have announced today and the business that has been taking place over recent days, he will see what some of those difficulties are. He will also see thinking behind the point raised by the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford. There is to be a reference to the national insurance advisory council. What I said in response to the right hon. Gentleman was that I agreed that there must be a debate on the subject but that the best time for it would be when we got the advisory council's report.