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Business Of The House

Volume 901: debated on Thursday 20 March 1975

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

The proposed subjects for the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, which will be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 25th November, are as follows:

TODAY—Industry.

FRIDAY 21ST NOVEMBER—National Health Service.

MONDAY 24TH NOVEMBER—Education.

TUESDAY 25TH NOVEMBER—Economic affairs, when Community Documents R/2447 and R/2102 of 1975 will also be relevant.

WEDNESDAY 26TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill, and motion on the 1974 Act Continuance (No. 2) Order.

THURSDAY 27TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the National Coal Board (Finance) Bill and of the Moneylenders (Crown Agents) Bill.

FRIDAY 28TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the OECD Support Fund Bill and of the Northern Ireland (Loans) Bill.

MONDAY 1ST DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Will the Leader of the House confirm the understanding that, as the Opposition have agreed to the debate on the Address being cut short by one day, the Government will make available another day this side of Christmas?

Yes, Sir. If the Opposition want another day, we shall provide it, but I point out that on a number of occasions in recent years the debate on the Address has been of this length. That includes the period of office of the last Conservative Government.

Will my right hon Friend consider the possibility of having a debate as soon as possible on the whole subject of the failure of the secondary banking institutions and insurance companies, with particular reference to the way in which the Bank of England lifeboat committee has been set up, and to ascertain the extent of the tax losses arising out of the lifeboat support operations for the secondary banks, which unwisely used their moneys during the period when property values were soaring, only to fall subsequently? Does he appreciate the need for a debate of this kind, especially as the Queen's Speech makes no reference at all to the need for a Companies Bill of some sort to deal with these anomalies?

I have just announced that next Tuesday's debate is on economic affairs, and I should have thought that that was a very proper subject for that day.

When does the Leader of the House propose to bring forward the promised motion on the possibility of setting up another Select Committee on abortion? There are some hon. Members who take the view that it would be better, if possible, to debate such a motion before the Ballot for Private Members' Bills.

I cannot promise it before the Ballot for Private Members' Bills, but certainly it will be before very long.

The Leader of the House will recall the request made to him before prorogation to arrange a day for a debate on unemployment not in connection with the general debates on the Gracious Speech from the Throne. Has he had time to consider that request? Will he agree, now that the discussion of the six major industrial Powers has taken place—with debates on the level of employment and unemployment expected to play a large part during the winter—that it is now time for the House of Commons to devote an entire day to this most important subject?

I understand my hon. Friend's concern on this subject now, as in the past, and the concern shown by hon. Members in all parts of the House. As I have said, the Government share their concern about the intolerable level of unemployment. However, there are five days for debate on the Queen's Speech and I should have thought that this matter could be raised during that time. I am afraid that I cannot promise a separate day on this subject for some time to come.

Concerning next Tuesday's debate on economic affairs, will the Government be putting down separate motions in relation to the two EEC documents, or will they all be merged in the general economic debate? If the latter is the case, do the Government realise that they are not honouring the undertaking that the House may express an opinion on a particular document?

We are simply carrying out the suggestion of the Scrutiny Committee, which said that these were appropriate orders to be taken in the context of a general economic debate.

Will the Leader of the House indicate how quickly after the publication of the White Paper on devolution we can expect a debate on that subject? Will he confirm that that, too, has not been put off for the next Parliamentary Session?

No, Sir, not at all. My commitment and the Government's commitment on devolution is complete and absolute. There will be a two-day debate and it will be held as soon as possible. We have a number of essentially very urgent Bills that require a Second Reading before Christmas, but that debate will certainly be at the earliest possible moment. Let me say also—to correct a wrong impression that got around yesterday—that the drafting of the Bill has started and is well under way.

In view of the involvement of South African forces in Angola, is my right hon. Friend aware of the serious nature of the conflict arising there? Will he recognise that the situation could become so bad as to con- sign both Congo and Biafra to a footnote in the history books? Will he urge the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the matter or to raise the question in the Security Council?

This is an extremely serious and potentially dangerous situation. I shall pass my hon. Friend's comments to the Foreign Secretary.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that when Bills are committed to Standing Committees, Back Benchers will not be faced at the first sitting or the first few sittings with sittings motions compelling them to sit all hours of the day and night? Does he not agree that legislation should be well prepared and should be given plenty of time?

All our legislation is well prepared and we think that we give it adequate time. I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's comments in mind. He always puts forward a reasonable view.

Will the right hon. Gentleman let us into his confidence about the undertaking that was said to be given to the other place about the Government's wish that no legislation should be introduced after Easter next year?

Will my right hon. Friend next week make a statement on the arrangements for broadcasting the proceedings of the House?

I pointed out before prorogation that a sub-committee of the Services Committee was considering this matter. I hope that it will report in the very near future, will recognise the urgency of the matter, and will bring proposals to the House at the earliest possible moment.

Arising from the economic debate next Tuesday, is there any hope of assistance for textile workers in Lancashire in the way of a limitation of imports? If the matter is not to be dealt with in the economic debate on Tuesday, will the Leader of the House arrange an early statement on the state of the textile industry?

There will be a statement on selective import controls—not next week, but in the very near future.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is now increasing concern about the circumstances of the British Steel Corporation involving the prospects for thousands of jobs? In view of recent statements on this matter, will it be possible to have a full day's debate shortly?

I recognise my hon. Friend's concern, particularly bearing in mind the area from which he comes. I come from roughly the same area. The subject mentioned by my hon. Friend will be an appropriate one for discussion on Tuesday of next week. I shall bear in mind what he has said.

If the Government are able to make a statement about Chrysler next week, may we take it that there will be a debate on the subject soon afterwards? May I suggest that in any debate on Chrysler we could also incorporate a debate on the Select Committee's Report on the motor industry?

The hon. Gentleman knows the rules about debating Select Committee Reports and the number of days available for that purpose during the year. I have answered this question on earlier occasions. I shall bear the matter in mind. I do not know when a statement will be made about Chrysler. I hope that it will be next week. I do not know for certain, but it will be made at the earliest possible moment. I agree that the House will wish to debate the motor car industry before very long.