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Business Of The House

Volume 894: debated on Thursday 26 June 1975

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May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week, please?

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 30TH JUNE.—Supply [22nd Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on the problems of the fishing industry, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

At seven o'clock, the Chairman of the Ways and Means has named Opposed Private Business for consideration.

TUESDAY 1ST JULY, WEDNESDAY 2ND JULY and THURSDAY 3RD JULY.—Remaining stages of the Industry Bill.

FRIDAY 4TH JULY.—Supply [23rd Allotted Day—First half]: There will be a debate on EEC Documents on Community Budget 1975 and associated matters and on aids to shipbuilding (No. R /1362/ 75).

MONDAY 7TH JULY.—Private Members' motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, remaining stages of the Statutory Corporations (Financial Provisions) Bill.

May I ask the Leader of the House about an economic statement? The Prime Minister indicated in a reply last Tuesday that there would be an economic statement before the recess. I express the hope that it will not occur just two or three days before the House rises but will take place in sufficient time to enable us to have a proper two-day debate upon it.

Yes, I shall certainly bear in mind what the right hon. Lady has said. I am sure that the House will wish to debate these matters at length.

When will the Government make a statement on the Boyle Report on MP's salaries and conditions? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us feel that, given the present economic circumstances, the Government might well be justified in not granting the full award recommended by Lord Boyle and his Committee? However, an increase in the secretarial allowance is long overdue in the interests of our secretaries in the House, who work very hard. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there has been no increase in that allowance since January 1972?

Yes, I understand the concern of hon. Members. The Prime Minister received the Royal Report 10 days ago and the Government are considering it. When the Government have completed their consideration they will publish the report together with their recommendations to the House.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that employers in Britain are under an obligation to employ a quota of disabled people amounting to 3 per cent. of their work forces, but that half of them fail to do so? As the nation looks upon us to give a lead, is my right hon. Friend aware that it has now been revealed that in the House Commons, which has a large labour force, only 0·7 per cent. of those employed are disabled, and that in the House of Lords not one disabled person is employed?

Does my right hon. Friend not think that that is a scandalous situation? Will he do something about it?

Certainly I shall look at the figures that my hon. Friend has given and perhaps talk to him about the matter.

As the Leader of the House will be aware, several weeks ago the Government published a very important White Paper concerning agriculture called "Food from our own Resources". Will he give an undertaking that we shall debate that White Paper, if not next week, at least very soon?

No, Sir. I cannot promise any time in the near future, but all the days for general debates are now in the hands of the Opposition. I suggest that the subject mentioned is an appropriate one for such a debate.

My right hon. Friend is probably aware of the concern which has been expressed about the HS146. We are distressed that the Bill dealing with the shipbuilding and aircraft industries will not be proceeded with this Session. Could my right hon. Friend give an assurance that it will have top priority at the beginning of next Session?

This is one of the Government's top priorities and I shall ensure that the Bill is given a Second Reading as soon as possible.

May I refer again to the Boyle Report? My right hon. Friend will be aware of the private and public correspondence which has taken place between him and many hon. Members. I appreciate all the answers which he has given over a period of six months, but it is no use saying that he understands our concern and then leaving the situation in a state that is no more helpful to us than the old coal owners were to the coal miners in days gone by. Surely it is time we proved that a Labour Government can be as good an employer as can a Tory Government.

My right hon. Friend has written to me about this matter. I think he might bear in mind that I referred the matter to the Boyle Committee and arranged for an interim adjustment last August. The Government will consider the matter as soon as possible and publish a report, together with our recommendations—as soon as we possibly can.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Stationery Office has sold out of copies of the Bullock Report, which proves that there is great interest in the teaching profession. but that there is some concern that the Government do not appear to want to know about the matter. Will he give the House time to debate that report and to give it the recognition which it warrants?

I know about that report and I have paid a great deal of attention to it. I regret that we have not had time to debate that matter, but there has been a lack of time for general debates. However, the Session still has a long time to go and I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Since the Boyle Report is a matter of concern to the House of Commons and not just to the Government, would it not be better if that report were published now, even though the Government cannot make up their minds about it, so that hon. Members at least are able to make up our minds? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman make a further statement on the Government's legislative programme? It appears that some of his back benchers know that one Bill has been dropped. Could I remind him that there are 128 Members serving on nine Standing Committees, that there are 337 Members serving on Select Committees, that there is more Government legislation queueing up for Committee room space, and that his programme is in a shambles? Does he appreciate that the Chamber of this House is almost empty most of the day because hon. Members are upstairs in Committee discussing damned silly Bills that ought never to have had a Second Reading? When will he straighten out the situation?

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's rather long supplementary dealt with Boyle. The Government felt that it would be for the convenience of the House if we published our recommendations at the same time as the report was issued. [Horn. MEMBERS: "When?"] As for the legislative programme, I pay tribute to all the work which is being done in Committee. It is the heaviest programme for many years. By the time prorogation comes along, that programme will all be on the statute book.

My right hon. Friend said before the Spring Recess that the Finer Report would be debated in the near future. Early next week there is to be a national lobby by one-parent families. They are coming to the House of Commons to demonstrate about their problems. Will he give a date for that report to be discussed so that we may advise our constituents about their future?

No, Sir. I am only announcing business for next week. I hope that before the end of the Session we shall have a debate on the Finer Report. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is an extremely important matter and I would remind him, as I did last week, that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already implemented one part of the report. But I agree that the House should have an opportunity to debate it.

I recognise the modest advance made by the Government in agreeing to take legislation on European matters on Fridays rather than at midnight, but will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to debating the report of the Select Committee on Procedure so that we may have these instruments in some orderly form?

I agree. I shall arrange this debate at the earliest possible moment, but I am afraid that it will not be next week.

My right hon. Friend will recall that it is nearly six months since the House was cut off in the middle of debating the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill. In view of the importance of people using seat beits—I have in mind the suspended state of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis)—will my right hon. Friend bring forward that legislation this Session?

I am sorry that we were suspended mid-air on the Bill dealing with seat belts. I will bear in mind my hon. Friend's comments and the Second Reading will. I hope, be completed in due course.

May I press the Leader of the House on the Road Traffic (Seat Belt) Bill? According to the Ministry of Transport's own figures, 600 people have died unnecessarily because we have taken no action on that legislation.

There is some argument about the significance of the figures, but it is an important subject and I shall arrange for the Second Reading to be completed as soon as I can find the time.

The House rightly spends considerable time in examining the requirements of manufacturing industry, but would my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of allocating some time to a debate on banking, insurance and other financial institutions and the economic power which they exercise, and will he link that to the role of the Bank of England and its relationship to sterling, and similar matters?

I am afraid that I cannot provide any time before the Summer Recess for general debates on such matters but, as I said to the right hon. Lady, the Leader of the Opposition, I should have thought that there will be an opportunity before the recess to debate economic and financial matters at some length.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the most damaging things the Government can inflict on industry is uncertainty? Will he clear up the position of the aircraft and shipbuilding industry as soon as possible and make a statement today or next week on the Government's intentions? The situation has not yet been made clear. Secondly, may I pick up the point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and draw attention to the ridiculous situation in the Standing Committee work load? Members of this House are forced to spend such an inordinate amount of time in Standing Committees that their chances of taking part in the main forum of debate in the Chamber are severely limited. There are, as my hon. Friend said, 128 Members taking part in Standing Committee proceedings and there is a further queue of other legislation at this time of the year, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. Is he aware that in his capacity as Leader of the House, he is doing a singular disservice to Parliament in presenting a congested, wretched legislative programme?

The legislative programme could not be more relevant to the problems of this country, particularly the Industry Bill which is aimed at one of the country's major problems, namely low investment in industry. The legislative programme is absolutely essential and relevant to Britain's present problems. I am sorry about all the Members serving on Committees. The number is very large at present, and I have already paid tribute to the work being done by hon. Members in Committees. I am sorry that the burden is so great.

The right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that there should be certainty in these matters. But let me make it clear that the one thing that is certain is that the Government will proceed with the Bill dealing with the aircraft and shipbuilding industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] I do not know when. I am announcing next week's, business. But that legislation will be proceeded with and is one of the Government's top priorities. However, I shall see whether it is possible by this time next week to give a clear indication when the Second Reading will be. I shall repeat what I said, because clearly the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to create doubts about the matter. The Government will proceed with the Bill as soon as possible.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that a few weeks ago he told me at another Business Questions session that he would shortly be bringing forward his proposals to reorganise the way in which this House is run, including its sitting times? When will he bring those proposals forward? Shall we have an opportunity to debate the matter before the Summer Recess, bearing in mind that the present system places a heavy burden not only on Members of Parliament but on the hundreds of people who work in the House when it is sitting?

Because there is no time. I am planning to do this as soon as possible, and I would hope that the review of procedure will go very much wider than the hours of sitting.

In giving consideration to the Boyle Report, will the Leader of the House urgently and seriously consider as well the problems facing all hon. Members who have been appointed to the Council of Europe and the Western European Union, who are having to pay out of their own pockets for travelling, secretarial and accommodation expenses while representing this House abroad?

I have met representatives of the people serving on these bodies and I hope to make an announcement on the matter in the next day or so.

is my right hon. Friend aware that there is growling concern at the ever-increasing cost of ordinary household goods and that this is causing grave consternation, particularly when people see firms imposing these increases and making very high profits? Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate solely on prices as soon as possible?

No, I cannot promise that. However, as I have said twice already, there will certainly be an opportunity before the Summer Recess to debate economic affairs generally.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall saying when he wound up the devolution debate that he would be seeking ways and means of making known Government decisions on devolution on an interim basis? Since then there have been leaks in the Press, but little has been said in the House. The latest example of that was a long piece in The Times on Monday indicating that the Government, contrary to Kilbrandon, have decided against a separate Civil Service for Scotland? Are there to be any interim announcements, and when can we expect a statement on the Civil Service?

The last point is not decided by the Government. I read the piece by Mr. Hennessy in the paper the other day. As I promised, there will be a White Paper in the autumn—at the end of September or the beginning of October—which will set out our decision on this matter and cover most of the essential points in the devolution exercise.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his statement about the Bill to nationalise the shipbuilding and aircraft industries will be met with great disappointment by workers in those industries? Since there is bound to be some degree of uncertainty, particularly in the shipbuilding industry, will my right hon. Friend provide an early debate on the Government's intentions for that industry in the interim period?

The one thing that there is no uncertainty about is the Government's determination to proceed with the Bill at the earliest possible moment. The industry is entitled to know when the Second Reading will be, and I shall try to ensure by this time next week, or even before then, that we make that known.

Is the Leader of the House aware that his answers about the congestion of the business of the House are totally unsatisfactory? Will he take into account not only that Standing Committees are meeting in the mornings but that four Standing Committees will be meeting this afternoon, and that that effectively rules those Members out of participation in the Chamber? Expressing sympathy with them is not enough. He ought to put his own House in order.

For the greater part of the time of the last Conservative Government, Committees were meeting in the afternoon. There is nothing new about the congestions.

At a time when the House is concerned about the Boyle Report, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the 140 members of the Assembly in Edinburgh who will be content with nothing less than post-Boyle salaries? May we have a proper costing of these proposals in the devolution White Paper?

Will the Leader of the House give prompt consideration to Early-Day Motion No. 551 on Cyprus?

[ That a Select Committee be appointed to visit Cyprus on a fact-finding mission and for the purpose of examining what steps the United Kingdom may reasonably take to comply with their responsibilities imposed under the Treaty of Guarantee ( Command Paper 1253):

That the Select Committee shall consist of Ten Members.

That the Select Committee shall report upon their findings to this House and pay particular regard to the plight of British residents in Cyprus and any steps recommended to assist in this regard.] He will have seen that there is support from all quarters of the House for the proposal that it is time for a Select Committee to visit Cyprus on a fact-finding mission? Will he and the Foreign Secretary give this matter very early attention, and, I hope, set up that Select Committee?

The hon. and learned Member will recollect that my right hon. Friend answered questions on this subject on 21st May, saying that he was sympathetic to the idea of a group of hon. Members going to Cyprus and that he would look into the matter. I will look at the question with him to see what we can suggest.

May I join with the Liberal and Conservative Members in referring to the Boyle Report? If the Government are embarrassed in their negotiations with the TUC because Boyle has reported, surely in a free country the Government can publish the report and allow not only us but all our constituents to consider the recommendations and whether they should be implemented. [HON. MEMBERS: "Another referendum?"] Why does my right hon. Friend not trust the public on this matter?

It is a case not of being embarrassed but of the report being complicated and of the Government wanting time to consider it. I think it would be for the convenience of the House if we published the report and made our decisions at the same time.

In the present economic and legislative crisis of congestion among the Standing Committees, to which the Leader of the House has himself alluded, how can he maintain that the Government's programme is relevant so long as he is determined to proceed with the ridiculous Hare Coursing Bill? Will he think again and do away with it?

There is no legislative crisis. A great deal of hard work is being done by a lot of hon. Members to get through a programme which is absolutely relevant to the problems of the country. It is important to deal with cruelty, whether of animals, children, or anyone else.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his statement on the aircraft and shipbuilding nationalisation Bill is very welcome, and will he accept the assurance from the Government back benchers that there are many hon. Members willing to man the Committees to see this Bill through? If necessary, we will even get the lawyers in to spend some time on it. Are we to have an early opportunity of rejecting the four amendments that were made undemocratically in that undemocratic place along the corridor to the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill?

I am sure that hon. Members on all sides will co-operate to get the shipbuilding Bill through when it comes before the House because it is relevant to the problems the country is facing. On my hon. Friend's second point, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will make known his views on the amendments when the Bill returns to this House from another place.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that as soon as the sub judice ban is lifted the House will be given an opportunity to debate the Government's handling of their attempts to suppress publication of the Crossman Diaries? Is he aware that there is very deep concern about this possible threat to publication freedom, and the sooner we debate the matter the better?

The Government have made no attempt to suppress any diaries. Action has been taken by the Attorney-General in his official capacity as a Law Officer. The Government have not even considered these diaries. [Interruption.] If hon. Members will not accept what I say, I cannot help them. I reiterate that the decision was taken by the Attorney-General in his official capacity as a Law Officer.

Returning to the right hon. Gentleman's statement on proposed legislation for the aircraft and shipbuilding industry, may I ask whether he has taken note of the published remarks of the Chairman of the Swan Hunter Group today on the detrimental effect of this proposed legislation on the shipbuilding industry?

The hon. Gentleman and I know the chairman of that company. We have known his views on this subject for many years. There is no change in the views he has expressed today.