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Business Of The House

Volume 886: debated on Thursday 13 February 1975

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May I ask the Leader of the House to announce the business for next week?

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 17TH FEBRUARY AND TUESDAY 18TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Industry Bill.

At the end on Tuesday, motion on the Financial Assistance for Industry (Increase of Limit) Order 1975.

WEDNESDAY 19TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill.

Remaining stages of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.

THURSDAY 20TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill.

Motion on EEC documents on milk (COM(71)64 and COM(71)1012).

FRIDAY 21ST FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 24TH FEBRUARY—Debate on Broadcasting the Proceedings of the House.

May I raise two subjects with the Leader of the House? First, on the debate on the broadcasting of our proceedings, will there be two motions, one on sound and one on television, and shall we have the chance to vote separately? Will the right hon. Gentleman give some information on the demonstration he is arranging in advance of the debate?

On the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill, may we be told why the name of the Secretary of State for Industry is not on the back of the Bill, bearing in mind the asurances that the right hon. Gentleman gave earlier last year that led to some people losing their money as a result of the Court Line collapse?

On the right hon. Lady's first point, yes, I think that this is the general wish of the House, and I gave assurances to that effect some time ago. There will be two motions, and the House will be able to vote for radio, for television, for both or for neither. I hope to arrange the demonstration on Thursday next week, possibly repeated on Monday, in one of the Committee rooms.

On the right hon. Lady's final point, my right hon. Friend's name is not on the Bill because he is not the Minister who is responsible for it.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many of us represent constituencies connected with the car industry have constituents who have not worked more than two or three days a week since the beginning of the year, and that their prospects do not look very bright? May we please have a debate in the very near future on the employment situation, particularly in the car industry?

I cannot offer a debate in the near future, but there will be an opportunity for a long debate on the economic situation on the Budget before very long.

Reverting to what the right hon. Gentleman said about demonstrations in a Committee room next week, may I ask him to note that the idea refers merely to a demonstration of television equipment? Will he include a repeat of a listening demonstration of the radio experiment conducted by the House some years ago, because many hon. Members have entered the House since then and it is only right that they should be given a chance to hear those programmes?

There is always a danger that the tapes have been destroyed—[Interruption.]—but I shall certainly look into the possibility. I do not know where the tapes are, or who has them.

In view of disturbing rumours that the cost of the car park in New Palace Yard is greatly in excess of the original estimate, and as there seems to be no activity, or very little activity, going on in connection with the resurfacing of New Palace Yard, may we have a report from the Services Committee at the earliest possible moment on what is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs?

I was wondering about the activity, or lack of it, myself. I shall look into the matter and see what is happening.

How many days is the right hon. Gentleman planning for the Report stage of the Finance Bill? Will it be six or five? Is he aware that already more than 1,000 amendments to the Bill have been tabled, and that Ministers are clearly incapable of answering the many questions being put to them in Committee? If the Bill is not to go down in history as the worst Finance Act ever thought up by the Labour Party, it will need very full discussion on Report to try to put it right.

I think that it will go down as one of the great Finance Acts of all time. We are planning to give five days.

Has my right hon. Friend given any further consideration to the necessity to allow the House an opportunity to discuss foreign affairs? Does he not agree that when that opportunity is eventually found it will be desirable, in view of the delay in finding it, to have a two-day debate so that all the subjects which hon. Members will wish to discuss may be raised?

I cannot promise two days, but I undertake to find one day for a debate on foreign affairs before Easter.

The Leader of the House will be aware that this week will have witnessed three extremely important meetings of the Council of Ministers in Brussels. Can he assure the House that statements made in respect of those meetings will allow the meetings to be separately discussed? The issues involved in the meetings of the Agricultural Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Energy Ministers can hardly be comprised within a single statement.

I shall consider that. There is to be a statement next week on agricultural policy. I shall examine the other points as well.

As we are to have a two-day debate on the Industry Bill on Monday and Tuesday, will my right hon. Friend consider limiting the number of Front Bench spokesmen to two, one to open the debate and one to wind up on Tuesday night, to enable more back benchers to take part in this important debate?

Following the comments made after the devolution debate, I suggest that we try an innovation this time, with the agreement of the Opposition, and have only two Front Bench speakers in the whole two-day debate, one to open and one to wind up.

May I intervene with a respectful suggestion from the Chair that the possibility of an extra hour for a debate on the first day should not be ruled out?

Has the Leader of the House had his attention called to Early Day Motion No. 139, relating to firearms control in Northern Ireland, which has been signed by a number of hon. Members?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Firearm Certificates and Permits (Variations of Fees) Order (Northern Ireland) 1974 (S.R. & O. (N.I.), 1974, No. 301), dated 29th November 1974, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th December, be annulled.]

Can the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on the motion? Apart from the fact that a number of hon. Members have signed it, it is almost unique in that the fees have been multiplied by five although it is less than five years since the previous level was arrived at. That demands the attention of the House.

I shall consider that. It might be an apropriate subject to discuss in the Northern Ireland Committee. I shall communicate with the hon. Gentleman.

Will my right hon. Friend have discussions through the usual channels to expedite the passage of the Industry Bill as there are to be Bills to set up a Welsh Development Agency and a Scottish Development Agency, and in those areas we do not want them to be delayed?

I do not think that that legislation will be delayed in any way. The Bills are not quite ready. They have not been introduced, but the other Bill is before the House now. There is no question of the first Industry Bill holding up the other two.

Order. May I clarify my intervention on the question of the Industry Bill. I was suggesting that the usual channels should not rule out the possibility of the debate on the first day continuing until 11 o'clock, because it is very difficult for the Chair to call every hon. Member who wants to speak in a debate of that sort. An extra hour on the first day might be a considerable help.

I believe that it is also an innovation for the Chair to intervene at Business Question time. I shall certainly consider that point.

After all, I am not altogether unconnected with the business of the House.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the words he used a few weeks ago about a statement or short debate on the whole problem of dumping which is now occurring in large sectors of industry and is having a grave effect on employment? May we have a statement by the Minister concerned or a short debate on the Government's attitude to the problem?

I shall examine that question, and let the right hon. Gentleman know. He has a good point here.

What opportunities will the House have to discuss in detail the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday about the Civil List?

The order can be prayed against. I understand that a Prayer has been tabled, and I am prepared to find time for it. There will be 40 days in which to pray. There is no opportunity for debate next week, but I shall try to find time in the following week. The House will wish to debate the matter.

As the Secretary of State for Energy desribed his important statement of 9th December as an interim statement, may we be assured, so that we may know what the energy saving has been so far, and so that we may hear the plans that the right hon. Gentleman no doubt has for the future, that we shall have another statement from the Secretary of State in the very near future?

I do not know about the very near future, but I shall pass on the right hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friend. There will be a statement eventually on the rest of the package.

Since the Government are most concerned about the problems facing the textile industry, as my right hon. Friend has confirmed again this afternoon, when will he be able to provide time to discuss the problems of the industry, particularly those of short-time working and imports, which are posing a severe challenge to the British industry?

I have already said twice this afternoon that I am aware of this point, that I have a great deal of sympathy with it, and that I will see what can be done about it. The Government have taken action recently in respect of two other countries, but my hon. Friend and his colleagues have real worries, and I will see what can be done.

With reference to small businesses, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on 6th December the House carried a resolution that the Government should urgently

"consider measures necessary for the encouragement of individual enterprise and initiative."?
May we expect progress on the matter? May we look forward to a statement next week?

I am sure that those are the motives which guide the Government in all their consideration of industrial matters, but I shall examine the matter, consult my right hon. Friends about it and see what can be done.

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving time to debate Early Day Motion No. 251 on the Business Rents Decontrol Order?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Counter-Inflation (Business Rents) (Decontrol) Order 1975 (S.I., 1975, No. 21), dated 12th January 1975, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th January, be annulled.]

I endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) about providing time to debate the order relating to the Civil List. As a matter of great urgency, I request my right hon. Friend to give time to debate the deteriorating position of the textile industry, both cotton and woollen, which, in the West Riding in particular, now faces severe problems caused by cheap imports from developing countries.

I have already replied on the last point raised by my hon. Friend. I know that he has worries about the situation in his own constituency, and I assure him that I shall bear it in mind.

I cannot, of course, give an undertaking that I can find time to debate every Prayer that is put down. That would be an impossible commitment. I have to judge whether it is the general wish of the House that a Prayer should be debated, and I will look carefully at the Prayer relating to the Civil List to see whether such a general wish exists. I cannot go further than that today.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and I two weeks ago raised with the right hon. Gentleman the important question of the shares in Burmah Oil. The right hon. Gentleman said then that he would consult the Secretary of State for Energy with a view to a statement being made. This matter affects the position of many thousands of small shareholders. Will the right hon. Gentleman take account of that and arrange for a statement by the Secretary of State, perhaps next week?

What measures does the right hon. Gentleman propose in view of the resounding and humiliating defeat suffered by the Government this morning in the Scottish Standing Committee, bearing in mind that the defeat was on one of the principles of the Bill?

I must confess that this is the first I have heard of the matter. I will look into it and consider what the Government should propose in view of that resounding defeat in Committee.

My right hon. Friend is aware of the great concern among hon. Members at the heavy concentration of unemployment in the regions and the unacceptably high level of unemployment on Merseyside. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) last week, my right hon. Friend said that he would look into the possibility of arranging regional debates on unemployment. Has he done so? If so, what are his conclusions? Are we to have debates on the regions?

I have been looking into the problem but have not yet concluded my examination. I believe that there is a case for innovation and having some mechanism for debating regional matters. But it is difficult to see how the House can find the time if the Opposition will not find time. I have always considered regional problems to be a worthy subject for Supply Day debates. When in Opposition, we divided many Supply Days into half-days on regional matters. It is an appropriate subject for Supply Day debates. There is a case for looking into the matter to see whether we can devise some means of debating regional matters.

Early Day Motion No. 236 proposes the setting up of a Select Committee on agriculture. What do the Government intend to do about it? Agriculture has many short-term and long-term problems, and the setting up of a Select Committee on agriculture would go a long way towards helping the industry to regain some of the confidence lost under the Socialist Government?

[ That, in view of the present problems facing the agricultural industry, of the need to study and make suitable proposals to improve the Common Agricultural Policy, and of the need to expand agricultural production, to ease balance of payments problems and to consider the detailed regulations on agricultural matters issuing from Brussels, the Government should now move to appoint a standing Select Committee on Agriculture.]

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will be making a statement on agriculture. Although the hon. Gentleman's proposal would not be paticularly relevant to that statement, it might be in order, if you would allow it, Mr. Speaker, for him to put that question to my right hon. Friend.

Will my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) about an early debate on the car industry? Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration that the problems of the industry stretch into the London boroughs of Ealing and Hillingdon, where there is great concern in many subsidiary and related companies about the present organisation of the industry? The whole matter is causing great concern and anxiety.

I well understand the anxiety, but I cannot find time in the House for a debate in the near future. We fought the election on a very big programme. We have an enormous legislative programme, and it is extremely urgent, in the interests of the economy, to get it on the statute book as quickly as possible. In addition, we have the problems of EEC legislation and of direct rule in Northern Ireland, which complicate matters on the Floor of the House. I think that a debate on the car industry is the kind of thing that might be debated in a regional context.

First, I acknowledge the granting by the right hon. Gentleman of five days for the Report stage of the Finance Bill. The sufficiency of that time will depend upon the extent to which the Treasury Ministers have been able to master the almost non-existent arguments in favour of the horrors which they have planned.

Secondly, may I revert to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? The Secretary of State for Industry may not be responsible for the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill, but it was his irresponsibility which caused it. Will the Leader of the House bear that point in mind?

Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that the Minister of Agriculture responds to the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) and includes in his statement on Monday a reference to the question of eggs? The import of French eggs is having a disastrous effect upon our own egg producers.

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the news which my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) brought him? I am sorry that news takes so long to reach him.

My memory is directly related to the importance of the subject. My right hon. and hon. Friends the Treasury Ministers are putting up a masterly performance in Committee and will repeat it on Report.

On the second point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I can only reply that if irresponsibility were one of the criteria for names on a Bill his name would be on a great many more Bills than has been the case so far.

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time to debate the HS 146 aircraft proposition, which will have a great deal to do with the future success or failure of the aircraft manufacturing industry?

I realise the importance of the matter and I will look into it.

I apologise to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) for not replying to the last point he raised. I imagine that the statement by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will deal with the question of eggs.

Order. I think that this matter must be clarified between the two right hon. Gentlemen themselves.

Will the right hon. Gentleman have a fundamental reconsideration of the Government's legislative programme so that we can have the long-delayed debate on the Finer Report on one-parent families for which we have been asking for a long time? Will he also arrange for a statement on Cyprus to be made tomorrow if the situation warrants it?

I cannot guarantee that there will be a statement on Cyprus tomorrow. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is away, but the Minister of State is watching the situation carefully.

I have discussed the question of the Finer Report with the hon. Gentleman. I think that there should be a debate on it, and once the legislative programme is further advanced I hope it will be possible to find some time for one.

Did the right hon. Gentleman observe, from the questions put to the Secretary of State for Employment, that there is genuine and widespread concern about the Secretary of State's complete failure to deal with the problem of the unofficial strike of signalmen? As the custodian and guardian of our privileges in this House, will the right hon. Gentleman give us a chance to debate the situation? However delicate it may be, it should be debated in the House so that the Secretary of State and the Government as a whole can be reminded of their duty to speak out and speak up for the commuters who are so inconvenienced.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has made a forthright statement on the situation. The General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen has appealed to the men to go back. I do not think that a debate at this stage would help.

Earlier my right hon. Friend spoke about the volume of work and the difficulty of managing our business on the Floor of the House. Would it not help if we expedited the devolution of powers to the Scottish Assembly? Can my right hon. Friend say whether we are continuing to be "bang on target" with a Bill to be introduced in November?

I certainly hope that the Bill dealing with the devolution of powers from Westminster to Scotland and Wales will be one of the major Bills, if not the major Bill, in the next Session.

Order. This is a Supply Day and I must protect the rights of the party to which it belongs.