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Business Of The House

Volume 885: debated on Thursday 30 January 1975

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Will the Leader of the House kindly give us as accurate a picture as he can of the business for next week?

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

Yes, Sir.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 3RD FEBRUARY AND TUESDAY 4TH FEBRUARY—There will be a debate on Devolution, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

At the end on Monday, there will be a motion relating to the Import Duties (General) (No. 5) Order, 1974.

At the end on Tuesday, there will be motions on EEC Documents on Agriculture (R/27/75 and R/82/75).

WEDNESDAY 5TH FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Housing Rents and Subsidies (Scotland) Bill.

Second Reading of the District Courts (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

THURSDAY 6TH FEBRUARY—Supply [9th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on Housing.

Motion on EEC Documents on Doctors and Dentists (COM(69)127 and R/2610/74).

FRIDAY 7TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 10TH FEBRUARY—Consideration of Private Members' motions until seven o'clock. Afterwards, Second Reading of the Export Guarantees Amendment Bill.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that if right hon. or hon. Members wish to speak about the general subject of devolution in the debate on Monday and Tuesday they will be able to do it on both days, as the debate is on the motion for the Adjournment? Some may wish to speak about it in connection with their own areas, but others may wish to speak about devolution in respect of the United Kingdom as a whole. It would be difficult to try to divide the two days into particular aspects of the United Kingdom.

Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman now be a little more specific about a foreign affairs debate? Many hon. Members are worried about events in Cyprus and the Middle East. Considerable dissatisfaction was expressed on Monday on Foreign Office Questions. It would be helpful if the right hon. Gentleman could be more specific now.

Thirdly, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that there is considerable anxiety in the country as well as in the House about the statement reported to have been made by the Government's industrial adviser, Sir Don Ryder, that another major company was in serious financial difficulties and in need of assistance. Can the right hon. Gentleman get this cleared up by a statement from the Secretary of State for Industry?

With regard to the devolution debate, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be inappropriate to try to divide the two days, so both days will be open for debates on the subject generally.

I am sorry that I cannot yet be more specific about a debate on foreign affairs, but I understand that my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary wishes to make a statement on Cyprus next week.

I am told that Sir Don Ryder denies having made the statement of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke. He says that he knows of no firm which is in difficulties of the kind described. He made the point that if inflation continued at the present rate many firms would be under considerable pressure, but he entirely denies making the statement attributed to him in the Press.

Is it within the Lord President's powers to do something about the steep decline in the performance of the telephone service in the House from what was not a very good level?

I shall look into that. As far as I am concerned, it works excellently—much better than it has ever done. I think that there are fewer complaints than there have been in my 25 years here.

As the report of the Gardiner Committee has now been published, and there has been no statement of the Government's intentions, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when we may expect a Government statement and a debate upon what is a very important matter in the present grave situation in Northern Ireland?

I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the hon. Gentleman said. But I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and all other hon. Members will want time to read the report, which is a very important document. However, I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said.

Will it be possible to provide time to discuss the recommendations of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, in view of the establishment of another Select Committee to look into the affair of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) and the reports in the Press that organisations are being set up to inquire into the financial interests of hon. Members in order to blackmail them?

We have not had the report for very long. I have now studied it carefully and hope that we can have a debate on it before long.

Is the Leader of the House aware of Early Day Motion No. 212, which stands in my name and in those of 60 other hon. Members from all parts of the House? Is he further aware that I am most grateful for his reply during points of order last Monday, when he indicated his sympathy with my predicament?

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider further the matter of the Farriers (Registration) Bill, which I am seeking to introduce, since it has the support of every organisation in the country concerned with the welfare of the horse and the future of the trade of farriery? May I suggest that there is a way in which he could, if he felt so inclined, bring this whole unfortunate incident to a close, which is to indicate that the Government will not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill when it comes up again tomorrow? If he feels able to do that, my hon. Friends and I, who are sponsoring the Bill, will be prepared to meet all the objections raised by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department during her speech last Friday. We do not seek to have the Bill passed in the face of any opposition from anywhere. All we want to see is a piece of well-thought-out legislation put on the statute books.

[ That this House notes with dismay the circumstances in which the Farriers (Registration) Bill failed to get a Second Reading on Friday 24th January due to the tactics of the Government; recognises that Private Members' Bills make an important and valuable contribution to the work of this House; and requests that the whole issue of Private Members' Bills and the devices for blocking them he referred to the Select Committee on Procedure forthwith.]

As I said last week, I have sympathy with the hon. Member's difficulty. However, he has no prescriptive right to get his Bill through. Had he ensured that he had the right number of hon. Members here last Friday, he could have got the Bill through. The Government did not oppose it. If the hon. Gentleman had done his work previously he would have got his Bill through. However, other opportunities will arise shortly, and the hon. Gentleman will have to do his best.

May I draw the Lord President's attention to Early Day Motion No. 207 drawing attention to the deteriorating position in the footwear industry? Will he please arrange a time for this matter to be debated as soon as possible?

[ That this House, mindful of the deteriorating position of the British footwear industry, seeks a broad-based and urgent Government inquiry into every aspect of footwear with the objective of stopping this decline and safeguarding employment.]

I am afraid that I cannot offer any time in the near future for a debate on the footwear industry. However, I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Trade and for Industry to the motion.

Is the Lord President of the Council aware—I hope he is—of the Price Commission report which was published last week? Is he prepared to allow time for the House to debate the now-established weakness in the social contract, in that inflation is now being powered almost entirely from locally manipulated wage increases?

I cannot offer any time in the near future. However, there will be a debate on the Price Code after 10 o'clock tonight.

Will the Leader of the House try to get the Secretary of State for Trade to make a statement on Monday concerning his truly magnificent efforts during his recent visit to Iran, from which he returned today? Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State to explain how it is that he was so successful when we were told that, if we were desirous of coming out of the Common Market, it would ruin all our possibilities of trade? How has that affected his efforts?

The House will wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend. I can do better than my hon. Friend suggested. My right hon. Friend will be making a statement tomorrow.

Has the Lord President's attention been drawn to the motion lodged in the names of some of my hon. Friends and myself to amend Standing Order No. 62, concerning the nomination of Standing Committees? Has he received the representations which I made to him in that regard, asking for this matter to be discussed? Is he aware that many people in Scotland consider scandalous the way in which membership of Committees of this House dealing with Scottish legislation totally fails to reflect the balance of parties within Scotland? In view of the Government's determination to establish a Scottish Assembly, is not this an appropriate time to make the amendment to the Standing Order?

I have seen this proposal and have considered it carefully. I will look at it again and perhaps discuss it with the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, if any change is to be made to the basis of selection, it will have to be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure. I shall be very happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about it.

May we have a statement next week on the supply of military spares to the Armed Forces of South Africa, which is contrary to the policy of the Labour Government and the Labour Party since 1968?

Not next week, Sir. However, I am sure that if my hon. Friend has any specific points which he wishes to be considered, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will be happy to talk to him.

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we may expect the reintroduction of the compulsory seat belts legislation? That legislation appears to have a somewhat lower priority in the Government's programme. In view of that, is there a possibility that we shall not see the reintroduction of this Bill?

If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself a little longer, he will be gratified to see this Bill coming forward again.

Will the Leader of the House be more specific about the statements next week? Is the House to assume that the Prime Minister will make a statement on Monday following his visit to the United States and Canada? Will the Leader of the House therefore request the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on Thursday? Presumably the Foreign Secretary will want to make some comments about the discussions he has had with Ivor Richard, at the United Nations. In view of the impending initiatives to be taken by the United Nations in respect of Resolution No. 353, will my right hon. Friend now give some assurance that we shall be able to debate the statement made by the Foreign Secretary and not merely leave it as a statement to the House? I say that because the last time we had a chance of doing so was on 31st July 1974.

That is not strictly correct. There was an opportunity, on the Gracious Speech, to debate foreign affairs. Indeed the Foreign Secretary asked to be allowed to make a speech on that occasion. The only statement I have announced for next week is that which I understood the Foreign Secretary wished to make. However, I shall call my hon. Friend's suggestion to the attention of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.

Will the Leader of the House accept that I am delighted that he is coming to my constituency tomorrow, notice of which visit I received only five minutes ago? While he is there, will he be good enough to inquire into the reasons for the unemployment rate of 5·3 per cent. in Lancaster and draw to the attention of the Prime Minister the absolutely vital importance of maintaining the Heysham-Belfast ferry, and of making an announcement in the House during the coming week that he will maintain this ferry, which is vital not only to employment in my area but also to Irish-English relations?

I shall inquire into the subject of the ferry when I visit Lancaster tomorrow, and all the other relevant matters.

I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend is fully aware of the large numbers of people who have suffered financial loss in forfeiture of holidays as a result of the Court Line disaster. Bearing in mind the large number of inquiries which hon. Members are receiving now from the unfortunate victims of that tragedy, will my right hon. Friend exercise his influence on the Secretary of State for Trade and ensure that legislation is brought forward at an early date to deal with the matter?

Yes, Sir. We are doing all we can to expedite that. I understand my right hon. Friend's feelings in this matter. A great many hon. Members have received letters about it. Therefore I shall do all I can to expedite the matter.

Is the Leader of the House aware that his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) is most disappointing? Far from being a prescriptive right for back-bench Members, the situation came about as a result of a mean strategem by the Govment. Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that back benchers on both sides of the House are not prepared to be ridden over roughshod?

I well understand what the hon. Gentleman is talking about when he says that. All Governments have taken views about Private Members' Bills. There is no harm in the Government having an attitude towards a Private Member's Bill. On this occasion the Government did not oppose the Bill. I have said that I have a good deal of sympathy over the difficulty in which the hon. Member finds himself. He is a new Member. I am not saying this in any patronising way, but I think that, if he had had a little more experience he would have ensured that he had the right number of Members present. He will have a number of other opportunities before the time runs out for Private Members' Bills. He must work at it, as do all other hon. Members.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night managed to find about £200 million worth of spare taxable capacity in the rich with which to abolish the earnings rule? If that is the case, will he therefore seek extra spare taxable capacity among the rich so that we can eliminate the burden put upon the school children of this country by the Conservative Government when they introduced discrimination and the ending of free school milk? Will my right hon. Friend have consultations with the Chancellor and the Secretary of State—

Order. The question must be related in some way to the business of the House.

Will my right hon. Friend have consultations with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Education and Science with a view to bringing in early legislation for the reintroduction of free school milk?

I shall pass on that suggestion to my right hon. Friends. But, bearing in mind the borrowing requirement that we inherited—[Interruption.] I do not know what the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) is laughing his head off about. We inherited a borrowing requirement of £4,000 million, and it has necessarily gone up this year to more than £6,000 million. In view of that, the stratagem adopted by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends last night was sheer irresponsibility as well as being humbug.

The Leader of the House in that last answer neglected the one item of growth for which this Government have been responsible. May I put three matters to him about the business for next week? First, will he bear in mind that, generally speaking, statements on Fridays are a source of inconvenience and that it is very much better that they should be made on other days? It is much more for the convenience of the House.

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman prevail upon the Secretary of State for Energy to make a statement next week about the acquisition by the Bank of England of the Burmah oil shares in BP?

Thirdly, may I ask him to be a little more forthcoming to my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates)? He has a very worthy measure which a great many hon. Members would like to see on the statute book. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Government have not opposed it. I hope that he will take an opportunity, which is after all very much more easily available to him than to my hon. Friend, to see this legislation on its way.

Dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's first point about statements on a Friday, I remind him that right hon. and hon. Members constantly complain about statements not being made in the House. There are so many statements to be made that it is necessary to have some on Fridays occasionally, otherwise the remainder of the week would be cluttered up with them.

As for Burmah Oil, I have said already that because of the complexity of the matter I suggest that a Question be tabled to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy or to the Prime Minister. But I will pass on the right hon. Gentleman's request to the Secretary of State for Energy.

There is nothing else that I can say about the Farriers (Registration) Bill. A great many hon. Members have Private Members' Bills, both Ballot Bills and Ten-Minute Bills. The hon. Member for Petersfield must work on it and take his chance like everyone else.

In relation to next week's business, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that a number of Government supporters from this side of the Border are a little concerned about the fact that we seem to be overloaded with matters affecting the Celtic fringes? In view of that, would not it be sensible to take note of Early Day Motion No. 152, which by tomorrow morning will have about 80 signatories, concerning the Shrewsbury pickets and the fact that they have now been languishing in gaol for a consider-sable time? Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that there are many Government supporters who, although they have not signed the motion either because they are Government Ministers or perhaps because they think that the sentences are not excessive, nevertheless have a great deal of sympathy with the motion, and that perhaps a debate would be conclusive on this matter and would possibly secure the immediate release of these men?

[That this House calls for the immediate release from jail of the Shrewsbury trade unionists.]

On my hon. Friend's point about the Celtic fringe, we have not yet debated the Kilbrandon Report. I felt that it was proper to have a debate. I was asked for a two-day debate, and I agreed to that request. I hope that it will provide an opportunity for a debate on the whole question of devolution.

I am afraid that I cannot give any satisfactory answer to my hon. Friend's second question. The responsibility is wholly with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and he has already answered a number of questions on this matter.

In view of the fact that the unemployment figures continue to rise, will the right hon. Gentleman make time available for a full debate on the unemployment situation?

Order. We must move on.

With regard to the business for next week, I hope to be able to make a statement on Monday about the Committee of hon. Members to examine the Compton Report.