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Business Of The House

Volume 897: debated on Saturday 16 August 1975

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Will the Leader of the House be good enough to state 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 20TH OCTOBER—Debate on the Report of the Finer Committee on One-Parent Families, Command No. 5629.

Remaining stages of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Bill [Lords].

Proceedings on the Iron and Steel Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be seeking your permission, Mr. Speaker, to make a statement about the establishment of an inquiry into the National Health Service.

TUESDAY 21ST OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Scottish Development Agency (No. 2) Bill [Lords]

Second Reading of the Cinematograph Bill.

Proceedings on the Recess Elections Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

WEDNESDAY 22ND OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Industry Bill.

THURSDAY 23RD OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Welsh Development Agency (No. 2) Bill [Lords].

Followed by a debate on Welsh Affairs, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House Remaining stages of the Cinematograph Films Bill.

FRIDAY 24TH OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Hare Coursing Bill.

MONDAY 27TH OCTOBER—Debate on an Opposition motion on the National Health Service.

It is expected, Mr. Speaker, that the new Session will be opened on Wednesday 19th November.

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions. First, it emerged from the Prime Minister's answers to Questions that a major economic statement is about to be made elsewhere this evening, covering things that we have often asked the Government about, such as controlling public expenditure and a new industrial strategy. If any such major statement is to be made, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we have it in the House first?

Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when we shall have a debate on the handling of EEC business? We have tried to put down an amendment for the debate tomorrow, but I understand that we cannot do so for procedural reasons. We would have preferred to have done so. We feel that the sooner we debate this matter the better.

I will reply to the right hon. Lady's second question first. I understand her feelings and those of many other hon. Members about this matter. Tomorrow's is an adjourned debate plus further motions. The debate was originally adjourned because of economic debates before the recess. It was adjourned because I did not want the House to go into another week in August. Matters have come up since then and they will all be taken tomorrow. There will be a debate shortly, in this Session, on the Select Committee's report on the handling of EEC business in the House.

In reply to the right hon. Lady's first question, I remind her that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is making the traditional speech in the City tonight that Chancellors of the Exchequer have made for many years.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that next week there will be a public inquiry into the death in hospital of a severely disabled boy, that the authorities will be legally represented but that the parents probably will not because of the inequities of the legal aid system? This is a dramatic example of the shortcomings of our legal aid system. Could my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the legal aid system?

I am afraid that I cannot offer any time for a debate on this matter, but I will bring what my hon. Friend has said about legal aid to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for an early debate on the report of the Expenditure Committee on the motor vehicle industry, so that the House can express itself on that weighty report before there is any question of more money going to British Leyland?

That report is very important, and the Government must consider it and prepare their response. When that has been done, it will be time to consider a debate.

In view of the massive disagreements which appear to be arising within the EEC on matters of vital concern to this country and on such matters as overseas policy, can my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on our policy within the EEC, quite apart from the agricultural issue?

Without agreeing that there are matters of massive disagreement within the EEC, I can tell my hon. Friend that there will be a debate on foreign affairs before the end of this spillover part of the Session.

If today the Government decide to veto the EEC's policy on pollution, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made immediately to the House?

Yes, Sir. I think that is a reasonable request. I will pass it on to my right hon. Friend concerned.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people welcome the fact that, despite the difficulties of time, the House is to have the opportunity to take the remaining stages of the Hare Coursing Bill, and that the country as a whole will be looking for a final decision on this matter by the House?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I should warn hon. Members that I propose to suspend the rule on that Friday.

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect to proceed with the Bill about seat belts? Is it not the case that the Bill could save some 8,000 human lives a year? Would it not be better to deal with the safety of human beings rather than with a Bill dealing with some 600 or so hares?

I am sorry that it has not been possible to continue the Second Reading debate on the Bill dealing with seat belts. I will try to find time early in the new Session for it.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the House is given an opportunity at the earliest possible moment to discuss the report of the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, which has been welcomed by all the agencies concerned with this serious matter, and in which a number of quite simple proposals are made which could be implemented to deal with the problem?

Are the Government to make any statement about the deteriorating position of the British textile industry during next week?

Since vital transport services, both rail and road, are being drastically cut—especially around my constituency in Watford—with the result that many people are being deprived of any means of transport, may I ask my right hon. Friend to give us an early date for a transport debate?

I cannot offer any time in the near future for such a debate. My hon. Friend can avail himself of the normal opportunities for raising constituency matters of this kind.

In view of the inadequacy of the statement made yesterday by the Minister of Agriculture concerning the situation facing the dairy farming industry, may I ask the Leader of the House whether he has any intention of arranging a debate on dairy farming in the near future?

No, Sir; I have no intention of arranging such a debate in the near future. I do not agree with the premise of the hon. and learned Member. My right hon. Friend's statement yesterday was an excellent statement. The relief he announced was welcomed in all quarters of the House, except the Conservative Front Bench. The measures he announced will give great relief to dairy farmers and will carry them well ahead of the increase in costs due to inflation.

Will my right hon. Friend give much more urgent consideration to making time available for an early debate on the report of the Expenditure Committee on the motor industry than he seemed to indicate he was giving in the reply he gave to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright)? Does my right hon. Friend accept that my colleagues on the Trade and Industry Subcommittee and I thought that, in view of the importance of British Leyland and the vast expenditure of public money involved, an early debate should take place on a day specially set aside for the purpose, particularly in view of the conclusions reached unanimously by our Committee, which have not yet been challenged in any quarter?

My hon. Friend knows quite well that the normal procedure in these cases—I am talking of the Fourteenth Report of the Committee—is for the Government to make their responses. The Government are studying this together with the CPRS report. This is a big document. When we have completed that task we will report our responses to the House. That will be the time to consider a debate.

Rather than waste yet another day of parliamentary time on the Hare Coursing Bill may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the House would not be better employed on Friday in debating the Third Report of the Expenditure Committee on the all-important subject of public expenditure, so unsatisfactorily dealt with by the Prime Minister, and on which we understand the Chancellor is to make a speech this evening? Would not this suggestion give the House of Commons the opportunity to reassert its traditional authority over our national finances and our economic destiny?

Will my right hon. Friend tell us when we are to have an opportunity briefly to debate some matters of intimate concern to the House, such as, for example, the van Straubenzee report? Is it not a disgrace that Members' secretaries are about the only secretaries in the country unable to get pensions and so forth?

I agree with my hon. Friend that when this matter is complete we should debate the whole matter. I agree about the urgency and importance of this.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the White Paper on devolution will be published before or after the start of the new Session?

I cannot say, but it will be published somewhere about that date. I cannot give the exact date. As I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman last week, this is a long and detailed document. It is a big printing operation. I will do my best.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give time in the near future for a debate on the noise levels of Concorde and, in particular, on the report which the Government have just issued, so as to allay public anxiety, particularly among those who live in the neighbourhood of London Airport? Would not this be a much better use of the business for Friday next week?

I do not underestimate the fears and apprehensions of people living near London Airport. I am afraid that I cannot find time next week for a debate on this subject. It is about next week that I am making my statement.

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving time to the Health and Safety at Work (Amendment) Bill, because there is now a large body of opinion in the trade union movement which feels that existing legislation needs strengthening and that this Bill would fit the purpose admirably? Can my right hon. Friend consider giving time to the Bill before the end of this Session?

I am afraid that there will not be any time before the end of the Session. We are coming up to a new Session and my hon. Friend can start all over again—and good luck to him!

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us on both sides of the House are deeply concerned over the decision of the EEC not to honour its long-standing obligations to help the Asian Commonwealth? Is he aware that we would regard this turning back on the part of the Community on the poorest of the poor nations as a betrayal at a time of acute difficulty for them? In view of this, will the right hon. Gentleman at least arrange for the Minister for Overseas Development to make a statement early next week? If possible, will he try to find time for a debate on this crucially important subject?

I cannot find any time next week. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has overstated the matter. However, my right hon. Friend is here and no doubt has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said and taken note of it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Law Commission has at last produced two important reports, one on exclusion clauses in contracts for the provision of services, and one concerning the rights of children to sue for damage caused to them before birth? Is he aware that each of these reports has a draft Bill attached to it? Will my right hon. Friend be providing time for the introduction of legislation on these two matters?

I hope that next Session we can get around to this. This is usual with Law Commission matters.

Since the report of the Expenditure Committee on the motor vehicle industry has already been in the Government's hands for two months, can we be assured that the comments of the Government will be made in the near future? Would the Leader of the House bear in mind that the Government, if they are having difficulty in reaching conclusions and providing comments on the report, could well be helped by an early debate on a special day set aside for the purpose?

I have already answered two questions on this subject and I cannot add anything further. I repeat that when the Government make their response to this report, and to the report of the CPRS, which they are also considering and which deals with the motor car industry, we can consider holding a debate.

My right hon. Friend will recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and I raised the question of a statement about Diego Garcia on a point of order on Monday of this week. Can my right hon. Friend say what consultations he has had with the Foreign Secretary? Does he accept that there is still a need for this matter to be clarified and for the House to have the opportunity of considering the many important questions at stake?

I was present during the exchanges on this matter the other day. I have talked to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary about it. I understand that my hon. Friend and another hon. Friend met the Foreign Secretary recently and that he wrote to them this week. I have a copy of his letter. I have also checked up on all the information given about Deigo Garcia. A considerable amount has been given over a period. The arrangement with the Americans, for example, was first announced by the Secretary of State for Defence in his Statement on the defence review on 3rd December 1974. I have checked up to the latest information given in another place yesterday. A vast amount of information has been given on this and I cannot see any need for a statement. There will be a debate on foreign affairs in the House in the near future, when this matter could be raised.

Referring to the reply given by the right hon. Gentleman a few moments ago, to the effect that EEC matters would be dealt with in the foreign affairs debate, may I suggest that it would be preferable if, in future, these two subjects could be separated? There is so much EEC business and there are other parts of the world to discuss, too.

The specific EEC matters are separate. There will be another day's debate on EEC matters, apart from the procedural debate, before the end of the Session. There will be one day's procedural debate, and one day on EEC matters, and there will also be the foreign affairs debate. All of this will be before the next Session in the middle of November.

Further to the points raised about the EEC's refusal to provide aid to non-associates, I thought that it had become fairly normal practice that a report was made to the House after meetings of the Council of Development Ministers. May I suggest that it will not be satisfactory if the whole range of Third World matters is wrapped up in the middle of a general foreign affairs debate? Given that a White Paper is due shortly on overseas aid questions, could my right hon. Friend possibly look, at some point in the early future, at the real need for a debate covering both aspects of the matter?

I will certainly consider my right hon. Friend's last point. As for the first, I understand that our right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development answered a Written Question on this yesterday.

Reverting to tomorrow's business, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why, when a series of EEC documents was put down on 25th July, it was done on a "take note" motion to which the House could make an amendment, but that when the same series is put down for tomorrow the debate will be on the Adjournment, to which no amendment can be made? Is he aware of the seriousness of what he is doing—taking away from Parliament the right to amend legislation coming from Europe?

Of course, if an amenable "take note" motion were down, that would not amount to the House amending the legislation: it would be expressing a view. The House can express a view in two ways—one by voting against the Adjournment motion if it wishes and the other by putting down an Early-Day Motion. I know that they are not entirely satisfactory, but there are difficulties tomorrow. It is Friday, and Divisions at 4 o'clock on a Friday present difficulties for some right hon. Gentlemen. It would mean suspending the rule. There are seven different motions. So, all things considered, I thought that it was better to have a wide debate on this occasion on the Adjournment. We consulted fairly widely in the House about it.

May I press my right hon. Friend further on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens)? Is he aware that serious allegations have been made by American senators that the agreement entered into on Diego Garcia involved cuts in the price of Polaris missiles and that the agreement with the Government of Mauritius was obtained as part of the package? Is he aware that the only Government statement on these allegations has been a non-attributable Foreign Office briefing? Is that really enough? Could we not have a statement or a Select Committee to sort fact from fiction in this episode?

My hon. Friend has raised a specific point. I should have thought that our Parliamentary Question system was designed for that purpose, to get information. I suggest that he puts down a Question on that.

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the rule will be suspended next Thursday for the Welsh affairs debate, since this is the first Welsh day for 20 months and since industrial production in Wales has fallen to the lowest level and unemployment has reached the highest level for many a long day?

The announcement about a general debate was made because we thought that the debate on the Welsh Development Agency Bill would probably not run the whole day and we felt that we should devote the rest of the day to a Welsh debate. However, if it is wished to suspend the rule—the time of the first debate is unpredictable—I should certainly be prepared to look at this. I would rather not do so: we have given more time to Wales this Session than for many Sessions past.

What did the right hon. Gentleman mean by his reference to "widespread consultations" about tomorrow's business? I understand that no consultations took place with us about what should go on the Order Paper. Perhaps he would clear that up.

Going back to the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition about tonight's speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Leader of the House said that the Chancellor was to make what was merely a traditional speech on a traditional occasion. Happily, there is nothing traditional about the state of our public sector finances at the moment. I wonder whether he would confirm that it would be wrong for the Chancellor to make a statement about the public sector borrowing requirement, as the Financial Times today suggests he will, without first making such a statement in the House? I hope that he will take this point seriously. If by any chance he is let down by the Chancellor, who does make such a statement, will he arrange for his right hon. Friend to come to the House on Monday and at least repeat the speech which he will have made at the bankers' banquet tonight?

The second part of that question is a great deal of nonsense. I would not attempt to lay down general rules about what the Chancellor should and should not say, any more than the House has ever done when the Chancellor has been going to speak at the Lord Mayor's banquet. He will make a speech tonight, and no doubt it will be an excellent one. On the first part of the question, if the Opposition were not positively consulted, I am sorry. I understand that they were told about it and raised no objection. I apologise for putting it the wrong way round.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the extreme concern about the present high unemployment and the danger of present Government policy being swept aside if the figures continue to rise? Already it appears that they are in a parlous state in certain sections of industry. Would he not consider, in those circumstances, that the House should take an early opportunity to debate unemployment and draw from the Opposition the sort of statements that they have been making this week about public expenditure—ideas which will add tremendously to the already unacceptable level of unemployment?

I agree with the last part of what my hon. Friend said—in fact, with everything he said, but certainly about the Opposition. If the policy of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) on public expenditure cuts were put into effect, it would double the unemployment figure, and she knows it. The concern my hon. Friend mentions is certainly shared by the Government. Our anti-inflation policy is directed towards getting unemployment down very quickly.