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Business Of The House

Volume 884: debated on Thursday 23 January 1975

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The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 27TH JANUARY—Supply [8th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on standards in education, when the appropriate Votes will be before the House.

TUESDAY 28TH JANUARY—MOtion to appoint a Select Committee to consider the position of the right hon. John Stone-house as Member for Walsall, North.

Motions on the Rate Support Grant Orders for Scotland.

WEDNESDAY 29TH JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Social Security Benefits Bill.

Motion relating to the Building (Second Amendment) Regulations 1974.

THURSDAY 30TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Prices Bill.

Motions on the Counter-Inflation (Price Code) Orders.

FRIDAY 31ST JANUARY—Private Member's Bills.

MONDAY 3RD FEBRUARY—Debate on devolution, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Regarding next week's business, when does the Leader of the House expect to put a motion on the Order Paper concerning the setting up of the Select Committee to consider the position of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse)?

As regards the business on Monday week, will the Leader of the House confirm that the debate on devolution will be extended for a second day? I think most right hon. and hon. Members will agree that it is not possible for all those who are interested in the major questions of devolution, particularly affecting Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England separately, to speak in just one day. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the debate will take two days?

Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when we are likely to have a debate on the report of the Phillimore Committee, which greatly concerns many hon. Members, and, of course, particularly the Press outside?

Fourthly, will the right hon. Gentleman consider a debate on foreign affairs, particularly the Middle East in view of the critical situation there?

Fifthly, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Secretary of State for the Environment will be making a satement on housing policy to the House in the very near future, probably next week?

On the first point, a notice of motion setting up the Select Committee on the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) will be put on the Order Paper today.

Secondly, if it is the general wish of the House, I shall be prepared to make a second day available for a debate on devolution.

Thirdly, I cannot say when there will be a debate on the report of the Phillimore Committee. It is an important topic, but I think that we perhaps need rather more time in which to digest the report. I recognise its importance and the need to debate this matter.

Fourthly, I cannot say yet when there will be a debate on foreign affairs, but I have discussed this with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I shall try to meet the right hon. Gentleman's wishes as soon as possible.

Finally, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be able to make a statement on housing in the not-too-far-distant future.

May I raise one further point with the right hon. Gentleman? It concerns the matter that we have just been discussing with the Prime Minister on the handling of the White Paper on the proposals for the referendum—or the Green Paper for which I have asked—and the legislation. Will the Secretary of State for the Home Department be in charge, as he is of all electoral matters, together with the other Secretaries of State involved?

The preparation of the Bill will be done by a department in the Cabinet Office, supervised by me.

In view of the broken promise about the introduction of a public lending right Bill before Christmas, may we be told when we can now expect this measure?

Is the Leader of the House aware that his indication that there will be a second day for the debate on devolution is extremely welcome and absolutely essential considering that this is the first opportunity that we have had to examine the whole matter referring to four countries since the Kilbrandon Committee? Will these days be consecutive?

Yes, Sir, if that is the wish of the House, and they will be the first two days of the week after next.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be considerable surprise in the Governments of the United States, Turkey and Greece that next week we are not to have a statement on the situation in Cyprus, especially in view of the second phase of the Clerides-Denktash talks and also because it is rumoured that we are to take initiatives in the United Nations about the partition of the island? Will my right hon. Friend assure us that the Foreign Secretary will be making a statement next week on the situation so that we may be informed about the initiatives which we understand the British Government will want to take?

The Foreign Office is top for Questions next week and there are a number of Questions down on the subject. That will be an opportunity to question the Foreign Secretary on Cyprus.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the strong feelings on both sides of the House about the embarrassing situation in which we appear unintentionally to have exempted ourselves in advance from paying the additional national insurance contributions which are to be imposed on the self-employed. May I draw his attention to a short and, I hope, non-contentious Bill which I have put down for Second Reading on Friday, and ask him two questions? First, at a time when we are asking for sacrifices from people generally with higher incomes, is it not embarrassing to Members of Parliament to appear to be doing for ourselves that which we are not prepared to do for others? Secondly, in the interests of the whole House, will the right hon. Gentleman facilitate the rapid passage of this simple and non-contentious Bill?

I am afraid that I cannot do that. If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman is putting the matter round the wrong way. The new rule flows from a Bill passed by the previous Government. The need is to have a closer alignment between the way that Members of Parliament are taxed and the way in which they pay national insurance contributions. The two have to be aligned. At present, they are not.

In view of the Prime Minister's very important statement today, can my right hon. Friend say whether a statement might be made very early next week by the appropriate Minister preventing Commissioners Soames and Thomson making many of their offensive broadcasts which could have an unjustifiable effect on the great debate? Because of the Prime Minister's statement, does not my right hon. Friend feel that such instructions or requests should be sent immediately to Brussels asking the two gentlemen concerned to stay there until the British people have made their decision?

I have a fair amount of sympathy with the sentiments behind what my hon. Friend has said. However, the commissioners are independent. I am sure that no one could or would wish to prevent them expressing their views on the matter.

May I remind the Leader of the House that I wrote to him on the subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), and may I also ask him whether he will arrange for time for this matter to be debated? Is he aware that his answer to my hon. Friend was entirely unsatisfactory because it did not answer my hon. Friend's question about whether Members of Parliament are self-employed, which they have always been, or whether they are employed by the State, by the Government or by the Crown? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to provide an opportunity for us to have an answer to the question. These are important matters, and they should not be decided as a result of legislation which arose on some previous occasion. It should be a decision taken by all back benchers—and Front Benchers if the right hon. Gentleman so wishes.

The fact that Members of Parliament have been regarded as self-employed for some years is the result of a decision taken by the post-war Labour Government, quite arbitrarily and for no good reason. The present position is the law of the land, and there is nothing to be done about it unless the law is changed.

Does the Leader of the House still intend to bring before us the budget of the EEC?

Yes, Sir. But my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has still to give evidence to the Scrutiny Committee. When he has done that, I shall bring it back to the House.

May we have a debate on the hours of sitting of the House? I remind my right hon. Friend that the Russian secret service interrogates its prisoners at 2 a.m. It is becoming increasingly the practice of this House to tramp through the Division Lobby at that same hour. Regardless of any parallel that my right hon. Friend may see between those two facts, I can assure him that it is extremely unpleasant to experience the second of them. At that time in the morning, the spirit of a Member of Parliament is very low. I ask him to arrange a debate on our hours of sitting as quickly as possible.

After three days on the Finance Bill, I can understand how my hon. Friend feels. But this is a matter that the Select Committee on Procedure can discuss. I have put a proposal to the Committee which will, I think, considerably lighten the load after 10 o'clock if it is adopted.

Although we are all overflowing with sympathy towards the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun), is not the real problem the growing tide of Government business with which the right hon. Gentleman's Government—I am sorry for the right hon. Gentleman in the colleagues that he has—is inundating this House? The Prime Minister's announcement and the muddle that he has got into over the referendum only threatens worse things to come.

The Government's business is in perfect order. What has complicated our sittings after 10 o'clock is our membership of the EEC. That is the complicating factor now.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to make a statement next week about whether Sir Don Ryder, the Government's industrial adviser, is responsible to the Prime Minister or to the Secretary of State for Industry? Many of us would like to know.

Sir Don Ryder is physically located in the Cabinet Office, and he reports to the Prime Minister.

Will the Leader of the House say whether it is the intention of the Government to make a statement on the powers and remit of the Scottish Development Agency before the forthcoming debate on devolution?

There is no intention to do that. The Bill setting up the Scottish Development Agency will be introduced into Parliament some time in the early summer. But I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the hon. Gentleman's wish to see whether it is possible to make any announcement before the legislation is introduced.

My right hon. Friend will have noticed that the Government motion on agricultural prices in the EEC is still on the Order Paper, and he will know that the significant point about it is that the matter to be discussed is my amendment, following the dropped order the other night. We all recognise the Government's difficulties resulting from the flow of ill-advised draft directives and regulations coming from Brussels. We are in a pre-referendum situation in which discussions of these documents will help form public opinions and attitudes before people decide how to vote in the referendum. Is it not an important element in the formation of public opinion for people to have information on these matters, and does that not mean that matters of this kind ought to be discussed at a time when our conclusions can be disseminated in the country? Since precedents have been made today, my right hon. Friend can make another by suggesting that this House should meet on Wednesday mornings so that these EEC directives and regulations may be properly discussed and examined for the information of the people of this country.

This matter has been referred to the Select Committee, which is going into it very thoroughly. My hon. Friend's suggestion is one possibility for dealing with this flow of legislation. On the general question, I think that my hon. Friend and his colleagues should give us credit for going much further in this matter than any other Government in the Community. This Parliament is giving far more information than any of the eight others, and I believe that we deserve a little credit for that.

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate the deep concern in all parts of the House over the procedure for the referendum. When will the next occasion be that we can probe a little further? In particular, can he satisfy me on one point with which the Prime Minister failed to deal, although I think he was asked? If the Government's recommendation be "Yes", it is essential for this country to remain in Europe, and if the result of the referendum he "No", what then happens to the Government, or to the Prime Minister and that proportion of the Government who happen to be supporting him at the time?

I cannot answer the second part, which is a question for the Prime Minister. On the first part, I will try to ensure that the White Paper is produced by the second half of February. The Prime Minister has undertaken that there will be an opportunity for the House to debate the White Paper on the arrangements for the referendum.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of his hon. Friends are grateful for the arrangements that he has made for the Scrutiny Committee, particularly since the present Leader of the Opposition made no such arrangements and kept the House largely in ignorance during the whole year of EEC legislation. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true."] In view of that, would he give one day of the four days in May which he has announced for a debate on the EEC budget? Also, does he intend to reinstate the VAT orders which mysteriously disappeared from the Order Paper last Monday?

On the first part, it was the Conservative Government who set up the Foster Committee on which our present arrangements are based, so we must be fair. I pointed out last week that the VAT orders will be taken by the Council of Ministers much later in the year, so there is a good deal of time. I also said last week that by the time they come to be discussed there may well be other relevant documents. So there is a case for waiting a little while yet to see whether anything else is produced. I realise the importance of the matter.

Reverting to next week's business, as there is no business after 10 o'clock on Monday night due to the withdrawal of the Prayer which the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) was going to move, would the right hon. Gentleman consider putting down Early-day Motion No. 127, which has all-party support, is backed by both parties on the GLC and is of major importance to the people of London?

[ That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning (Industrial Development Certificates: Exemption) (No. 2) Order 1974 (S.I., 1974, No. 2028) dated 4th December 1974, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th December, be annulled.]

I could not commit myself to that without notice, but I will have a look at the motion. I have undertaken to give time for my right hon. Friend's Prayer. It expires on 6th February, so I shall find time in the following week to discuss it after 10 o'clock.

Would the right hon. Gentleman have a look at the point about Motion No. 127 immediately after he leaves the Chamber, and perhaps answer my hon. Friend?

I would not be happy to put down a Private Member's motion after 10 o'clock, but I will look at it and talk to the hon. Gentleman about it.