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Commons Chamber

Volume 912: debated on Wednesday 26 May 1976

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 26th May 1976

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

AUSTRALIAN AGRICULTURAL COMPANY
AND SUBSIDIARY COMPANIES BILL
[Lords]

Read a Second time and committed.

Edinburgh Merchant Company Order Confirmation

Mr. Millan presented a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order under Section 7 of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, relating to Edinburgh Merchant Company; and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be considered upon Tuesday 8th June and to be printed. [Bill 155.]

East Kilbride District Council Order Confirmation

Mr. Millan presented a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order under Section 7 of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, relating to East Kilbride District Council; and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be considered upon Tuesday 8th June and to be printed. [Bill 154.]

Oral Answers To Questions

Environment

Council Houses (Sale)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many council houses have been sold to sitting tenants in Humberside since January 1976.

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many council houses were sold in 1975.

I will, with permission, answer this Question and Question No. 3 together.

In 1975, English authorities reported the sale of about 2,000 council dwellings not built specifically for sale. In Humberside five such dwellings have been sold since January 1976.

As was the case with Lincolnshire some weeks ago, is that not a disgracefully low figure? Will the Minister assure the House that in view of the recent local government elections the Government will now actively encourage local authorities to sell council houses to sitting tenants?

The Government stand by the policy advice issued in Circular 70/74 soon after we came into office and which was discussed in a recent debate. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman turns his attention to the local authorities in question before asking me what their particular policies should be.

Will my hon. Frend stand firmly by the circular to which he has referred, which stated that it was generally wrong to sell council houses where there was a substantial need for them? There are very few places in the country where there is not a substantial need. Will he insist on all councils, including Conservative-controlled councils, observing that ban, just as the Conservative Government insisted on Labour councils raising rents and actually punishing councillors who did not do so?

I can only repeat what was made clear in the course of the recent debate and on other occasions: that the Government certainly, as my hon. Friend requests, stand by the advice issued in that circular.

I do not know who has permitted the Minister to answer Questions Nos. 1 and 3 together, because they are totally different. Does he accept that the sale of council houses will not have much effect on council house waiting lists, because the people in those houses will stay on to rent them if they are not allowed to buy them? Will he therefore withdraw Circular 70/74 and issue a new circular asking local authorities to get on with the job of selling council houses to sitting tenants?

There are two or three points in the hon. Gentleman's question. It would be wrong to generalise about the effect of sales on council house lists. One has to look, as we have advised and urged and will continue to urge, at particular local situations. I would only make the point—it is difficult to go into detail at Question Time—that the hon. Gentleman must take account of the fact that there are remits which vary from one area to another. However, they are an important factor to take into account alongside the building programme that a particular local authority is undertaking in relation to the demand on the waiting list—growing, static or whatever it might be—in a particular situation.

In respect of Humberside, does my hon. Friend have a figure available for the total length of waiting lists for council accommodation in all the districts of the county?

Will the Minister accept that where there is surplus housing in the private sector it makes more sense to give council tenants grants to enable them to move from council housing into the private sector and so leave the council housing available to others who are on the waiting list?

If I understand the background to the question correctly, it would be a mistake, and it would be politically and policywise stupid, to sell off rented accommodation which is required to meet local waiting lists while empty accommodation is available in the owner-occupied market in the same area.

Local Government Finance (Layfield Report)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement about the publication of the Layfield Committee's report on local government finance.

I would refer my hon. Friend to my statement to the House of 19th May.

In respect of local income tax, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the Government's devolution proposals? Would it not be better to give the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies some revenue-raising powers, such as local income tax, in order to make them more responsible for raising the money they will spend, instead of simply relying on a block grant from the Treasury?

My hon. Friend will be aware that that proposal has not been made either by the Government in our own proposals or by the Layfield Committee in its report. But, of course, the Scottish local authorities, if in fact the scheme for a local income tax found favour, would be included in the proposal.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we accepted the Layfield recommendations as they are we would run the risk of getting the worst of both worlds? Would it not be far better either to retain the rating system or to go over to a system of local income tax without in the process needing to find an additional 12,000 civil servants?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the introduction of a local income tax and the retention of the rating system being, as he says, the worst of both worlds. However, this is a matter on which he would not expect me at present to announce a view. I am genuinely seeking to hear the views not only of hon. Members but also, of course, of the many bodies outside the House with a close interest in the matter.

In view of the sustained and continuing interest in the matter of local rates, will my right hon. Friend consider publishing a popular edition of Layfield, much attenuated and highly shortened, aiming to get it on the market for 10p or 15p, and inviting people who buy it to complete some kind of questionnaire, which would help them to face up to the hard realities of the choices involved in Layfield?

I am a little dubious about the posibility of putting this very complex report to people in quite that sense of inviting them to subscribe to particular propositions in the form of a questionnaire. However, whether or not a more popular version of Layfield could be put together and whether that would be useful in terms of consultation is something to which I shall give further thought.

Returning to his reply to the lion. Member for West Stirling-shire (Mr. Canavan), would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the logical sequel to the establishment of a Scottish Assembly is the scrapping of the regions in Scotland?

It is not for me to deliver an opinion on that at present, but no doubt all these matters will be rehearsed and fully debated in the forthcoming debates when the House turns its mind to the proposals for devolution to Scotland.

Does the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) mean that the Government's view on Layfield will not become clear until early next year, after the entire consultation period?

I think that our full and considered response to Layfield should await the receipt and study of the many submissions which we have asked people to make to us. There may be certain matters within Layfield on which it might be possible to announce a decision at an earlier date.

Parish Councillors

4.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will seek powers to enable all members of a parish council to speak and vote at the parish meeting of the corresponding parish.

We will certainly keep this point in mind for further consideration.

Is it not anomalous that a person living just outside the boundaries of a parish can be elected to the parish council but even when so elected is unable to participate in the annual parish meeting?

I accept that this is something of an anomaly, but a parish councillor can always attend and speak at a parish meeting by invitation.

Southampton

5.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will pay an official visit to Southampton.

If the right hon. Gentleman does go to Southampton, will he take the opportunity to meet the chairman of the housing committee and let him explain to him that the fact that the Conservative Party won 46 out of 51 seats in Southampton is directly related to the policy of the Conservative group of seeking to sell council houses to sitting tenants? As the Secretary of State is a democrat and said at the time of the referendum that he would always wish to accept the will of the electorate, will he assure the House that the Government will take no steps to frustrate the will of the electorate, expressed so clearly on this matter?

The hon. Member's question may be founded on a false premise—that is, that the success of the Conservative Party in the recent local elections in Southampton was uniquely due to its policy on the sale of council houses. If that is so, the Conservative Party has an awful lot of explaining to do about what happened in Manchester, where a similar programme was put forward in the most generous terms yet no change in control resulted. If the hon. Gentleman visits Southampton again, therefore, I hope that he will continue to draw the attention of his friends on the council to the terms of Circular 70/74.

If my right hon. Friend should eventually decide to go to Southampton, will he make a detour and go via Liverpool, where he will discover that the Conservative Party did not win 46 seats in the local elections and that there is a great deal of urban deprivation? Will he, therefore, consider for Liverpool a similar scheme to that which has just been announced by the Secretary of State for Scotland in relation to Glasgow, where houses will be built and industry will be developed by the Scottish Development Agency and the Scottish Housing Agency without any of the finance falling on the local rates?

I hope in time to visit many of our more successful port cities during the next year or so. On the specific question about the problems of Liverpool, problems which it shares with other major cities in terms of urban deprivation, we are making intensive studies of these problems and I hope in due course to be able to report further.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make no fewer than 89 other detours on his way to Southampton so as to visit the 89 other authorities which went Conservative at the district elections? He will then find overwhelming evidence of a desire for the widespread sale of council houses.

I shall not limit my visits simply to Conservative-controlled strongholds. However, I shall of course be very willing, on appropriate occasions, to hear the views of leaders of councils of whatever political hue they happen to be.

New Town Houses (Sale)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will now introduce a Bill to give families living in new town coporation houses a statutory right to buy their homes.

Would not the Minister agree that the Government's position as revealed in the debate last week nevertheless remains somewhat ambiguous? If discussions are to take place with new town chairmen, why should that fact of itself preclude a statutory right to buy when and where local conditions permit?

This matter must be discussed with the new town chairmen, because the Government's policy is to try to look at this matter new town by new town in the light of local considerations and the fact that we must give higher priority to those who rely on rented accommodation for a home.

Would not my hon. Friend agree that much of this argument by the Opposition is a diversion which conceals a great lack of interest—indeed, antipathy—towards the whole concept of new towns?

I do not know whether to agree with my hon. Friend about this. I always like to have a generous view of the views of the Opposition on this matter. I would only say that the difference between the Opposition and ourselves is that they take rather a doctrinaire approach to this matter.

Since the Minister has agreed under great pressure to change his dogmatic approach on this matter, will he give me an assurance that the arangements which are made in the meetings with the chairmen of new town corporations will ensure that tenants in the new town of Runcorn who wish to do so will have the opportunity to buy their houses, an idea which is supported by the development corporation?

My right hon. Friend has never been dogmatic on this matter, nor has the Labour Party. The reason why a ban was placed on the sale of new town houses is as well known to the hon. and learned Member as it is to the House—that when we took over there were long waiting lists in many of the new towns as a consequence of indiscriminate sale during the Conservatives' period of office. We shall have to look at the situation in Runcorn in the light of local considerations, and I am sure that that is what will be done.

When my hon. Friend is involved in consultations with the chairmen of the new town authorities, will he bear in mind that many of them are responsible for repairing the neglect of previous Tory councils which are now within the boundaries of new towns because of local government reorganisation? Will he take into account the appallingly long waiting lists, such as that in my area, which were inherited from districts which are now within the new towns?

How do the Government justify treating tenants in council houses owned by local housing authorities differently from tenants of the new town development corporations?

Tenants of council houses owned by local authorities are in one situation and the tenants of new town houses are in another situation determined by the responsibilities of new town corporations to national as well as local needs.

National Water Council

7.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he next intends meeting the Chairman of the National Water Council.

My right hon. Friends and I are in frequent contact with the Chairman of the National Water Council. We met him and the chairmen of the water authorities recently to discuss the problems of the water shortage. Future meetings will be fixed whenever necessary.

As the right hon. Gentleman has been meeting the chairmen and other senior representatives weekly for several weeks, has he any news for the nation about the situation in the drought areas? Is he proposing that the coordinating body should give any guidance to industry and domestic consumers about saving water?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a special interest in this matter. We are maintaining a close contact at official levels and receiving weekly reports from various water authorities. We are monitoring the situation closely. On the present state of play I think that I am still right to confirm that there is not a national problem. However, there is a problem in certain water authority areas, but even there it is localised. We are looking to the future and anticipating both a normal and a dry summer.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, although there may be local problems, there will be a growing shortage of water in future years? Will he look with urgency at experiments for providing cisterns that do not need major flushes on each occasion that they are used and thus save water? Such experiments have been conducted in other countries.

I am glad to take whatever technical advice is offered on these matters, but I hesitate to offer any myself. On the larger question of the increased use of water by industry and domestic consumers in the longer term, the Water Council was set up to keep the matter under review and the larger water authorities were established with that in mind. We are not yet satisfied with the arrangements and we have issued a consultative document to elicit further views on this important matter.

Roads (Traffic Lanes)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has considered introducing fast traffic lanes for vehicles carrying three or more persons.

Yes. Powers already exist for local authorities, or the Secretary of State in the case of trunk roads, to provide priority lanes for any specified types of traffic. In practice these are normally used as bus lanes.

Is the Minister aware of the experiment in the United States along the lines of my Question? Does he know that as a result of that experiment the number of commuters travelling one to a car has been substantially reduced, thereby reducing the density of commuter-time traffic and speeding it up? Will the Minister consider introducing a similar experiment on trunk roads in this country?

The hon. Gentleman has chosen an appropriate date for his American idea. The situation is different in the United States where the experiment applies to urban motorways, which have as many as 17 lanes in which to segregate the traffic. The scheme is not carried out in city streets.

Does my hon. Friend agree that taxis are an intermediate form of public transport and should be regarded as part of the public transport system? Is his Department in close contact with the GLC about the proposed speedbus arrangements?

We are having discussions about the speedbus. Taxis in London are easily recognisable but they are not always so in other towns. Oxford is carrying out an experiment with taxis which involves the word "Taxi" being prominently displayed on the vehicles. My Department certainly has no objection to that experiment.

Direct Labour (Review)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will consider appointing a director of housing or a housing manager to the working party which was recently set up to review the operation and structure of direct labour organisations.

An assistant director in the Greater London Council's housing maintenance department attends as an observer and the working party will seek advice from other experts in this field.

Would it not be better for the Minister to appoint someone in a full-time capacity rather than as an observer? Does he not agree that someone with the expertise of a director of housing should be a member of the working party?

I am reluctant to increase the size of the working party. I assure my hon. Friend that the observer is a participating attender. The special representation from the local government side is nominated by the local authority associations. It includes finance officers, works directors, city engineers, county surveyors, and architects. However, I shall bear my hon. Friend's suggestion in mind should we decide to increase the size of the working party.

Council House Building

10.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many council houses were started in the years 1973, 1974 and 1975 respectively; and how many are planned for 1976.

Totals of 99,549, 133,528 and 153,366 new council dwellings were started in Great Britain in 1973, 1974 and 1975 respectively. A total of 36,762 was started in the first quarter of this year. Taking the public sector as a whole, starts were up 22 per cent. on the same period last year.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on those results. Is he aware that they are unlikely to continue because so many Tory councils which have been elected to power have been celebrating their victories by threatening to cut council house-building programmes? Does he not deplore any such cuts? Will he confirm that the Government's top priority in council house building is to provide homes for those who need them most?

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his opening remarks. I am fearful of what may take place in a number of areas as a result of policy changes. I shall be watching the position closely. I hope that the fears expressed in some quarters and, indeed, the desire expressed in some Tory quarters—that there should be a cut-back in house building by local authorities—will not be substantiated. I hope that we shall see the present levels sustained as they have been in the past two years. I look forward to hearing some specific and positive encouragement from Conservative spokesmen on this subject.

Is it not the case that, seasonally adjusted, council house starts fell by 14 per cent. between February and April this year compared with the previous three months? Does the Minister agree with the view of spokesmen of the house-building industry that that fall is likely to continue for industrial reasons?

I have no evidence whatever from any spokesmen of the house-building industry to suggest that there will be a fall in local authority housing starts. The only suggestions in that direction have been from the Tory Party.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Conservative-controlled authorities, which have never shown any enthusiam for council house building or their tenants, will be tempted to substitute a policy of selling council houses for one of building them? What steps are to be taken in that situation?

I am not in a position to say what steps we shall take. I have indicated that we shall be watching the situation very closely and that I hope that the fears will not be realised. I repeat that I should welcome an exhortation from leading Conservative spokesmen nationally in favour of continued and increased building of local authority housing by local authorities throughout the country.

Will the Minister now acknowledge—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer"]—the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) that there has been a fall of 14 per cent. in public housing starts over the past quarter compared with the previous quarter? Is he aware that in a recent publication Shelter estimated that the Public Expenditure White Paper indicated that council building would fall below 150,000?

I repeat my question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I shall repeat it no matter how much shouting there is from the Opposition Benches. I repeat my request that leading national spokesmen of the Tory Party should call upon their fellow members of the party in local government to sustain the house-building programme.

Now I shall deal with the points that were put in order to dodge the question that I put to the leading spokesmen of the Tory Party.

Variations in quarterly figures have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) before, and he has proved to be inaccurate every time. The annual national figures have continued to rise. Subject to the concern about the future conduct of Tory-controlled councils, we hope and believe—and certainly the Government will make the resources available for this—that local authority house-building programmes will be sustained at their increased level of the past two years.

The question of the figures in the White Paper has been raised by the hon. Gentleman before, and we have had detailed correspondence since. There are no figures in the White Paper to support any suggestion that there will be a reduction in local authority housing starts so far as the Government are concerned. The only source of anxiety on that score must be the action of members of the Tory Party nationally and in local government.

Is it not completely nonsensical to talk about a fall of 14 per cent. which has already taken place and lay the blame on the results of the district elections held since then?

I am laying no blame. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to come clean. Does the Tory Party favour a sustaining of the house-building programme—[Interruption.]

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for a Minister, instead of answering questions at Question Time, to start asking questions?

It is remarkable how questions are answered from time to time. I have done it myself. I call the Minister—briefly, I hope.

The house-building programme by local government will be sustained at its present level so far as the resources projected in the White Paper on Public Expenditure are concerned. We shall provide resources that will sustain the present increase. It is no answer to that to suggest that because there is a drop—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—in one particular quarter compared with the previous quarter the annual figures will go down. There are always variations between quarterly figures throughout the year.

I return to my question: does the Tory Party intend—[Interruption.]—to sustain the house-building programme? We must take the answer to be "No."

Order. I suggest that we shall reach the other Questions if we allow the hon. Gentleman to finish his sentence.

It is interesting to observe the Opposition's reaction. We shall have to watch the conduct of the Tory Party in this connection.

British Railways

11.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has received British Railways' annual report for 1975–76; and if he will make a statement.

I laid the board's report and accounts for 1975 before Parliament on 12th May 1976.

When does the right hon. Gentleman visualise the report showing a balance and going into profit? Secondly, where does the annual report show the cost of concessionary fares for railway staff? Thirdly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the report shows that the number of executives has nearly doubled in the past year?

The question of concessionary fares is a very specialised matter. I have a feeling that it may come up in a debate on a Bill before long. I cannot hazard a figure for that, but if the lion. Gentleman wishes to put down a specific Question I shall give him an answer.

Can we look forward hopefully to a day in our lifetime when transport will be treated as a social service and not merely a money-making enterprise which is given a grant and must balance its books, or shall we be safely tucked up by the time that occurs?

I think my hon. Friend will agree that we must approach transport services in the knowledge that they use resources and, therefore, must be paid for. Whether they are paid for directly by the user or indirectly by the taxpayer is a matter of judgment. But as regards the Government and the doctrine in the consultation document, the important thing is to sustain a sufficient public transport service. That is what we intend to do.

What is the Government's judgment as to where the balance should lie between fares charged and subsidy paid by the taxpayer? What is the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the amount of subsidy payable to British Rail this year by the Government?

The figures for the next three or four years, covering the public expenditure forecast period, have been published and are well known. They do not permit of an open-ended subsidy, but provision is still being made for substantial support for the railway system.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that British Rail has taken a courageous decision to freeze rail fares for several months and that it should be congratulated on that because it is more likely to generate additional revenue and traffic? But does he also agree that we have the lowest freight usage of railways in the whole of Europe and that we are not achieving a significant shift from road to rail? What does he propose to do about it?

I note what my hon. Friend says about the freeze on fares until the end of the year, which will be widely welcomed by the travelling public after the inevitable increases of the past 12 months. Freight usage is one of the central questions that the transport review discussed. I shall be most anxious to hear the views not only of the railways—management and unions—but of other transport providers on this whole question.

flow many representations has the right hon. Gentleman received about British Rail's decision to withdraw facilities for racing pigeons and show birds, following legislation passed by the House? Is he prepared to introduce amending legislation which will enable this freight to continue? It affects my constituency very much and is a useful source of income to British Rail. It would enable British Rail to show something on the credit side.

The subject of pigeons on British Rail—[An HON. MEMBER: "And rabbits."]—was, I think, first raised when I last appeared before the House at Question Time. I have since inquired into the matter, and I am assured that the transport users' consultative committees and the central consultative committee are considering it. I shall decide what, if anything, I should do about it when I have received their reports.

Will the Minister say what effect the last fare increases had on the number of passengers who travel by rail? Will he confirm that it remains the Government's plan to eliminate the deficit on freight, which is currently running at £70 million? If that is the Government's plan, by what date do the Government intend to bring about that situation?

The evidence we have about the effect of increased fares on passenger movements, based on last year which shows an increase of some 50 per cent. in passenger fares, was accompanied by a surprisingly small fall of 2 per cent. in passenger journeys. I do not draw any conclusions from that fact for the future, but those are the facts as we have them.

On the question of the deficit of £70 million, the hon. Gentleman knows that on our PESC forecasts we hope to eliminate the freight deficit by 1978. That is one matter, among others, which I shall be discussing with British Rail.

Housing Stock

12.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he plans to issue a circular on better use of the existing housing stock.

Is the Minister aware that the existing stock well exceeds the number of households? Does he not agree that the best service which he can provide for hard-pressed taxpayers—and certainly to assist many young families and young people who require accommodation—is to increase improvement grants and also to increase the allowances to local authorities to enable them to grant more local authority mortgages?

I accept that the question of maintaining and improving the existing housing stock is of vital and central importance, alongside additions to stock as a matter of public policy and practice. We shall issue policy guidelines as soon as we are able to do so. This does not mean that we are not taking administrative action on a day-to-day basis with local authorities in increasing the variety of steps which they can take in this area. We are concerned about the drop in the number of improvement grants. We are discussing these matters in various quarters and are examining ways in which to improve the situation. Indeed, we have taken some steps recently.

On the subject of loans to local authorities, apart from the mortgage famine period of 1973–75, we are now running at a level that is somewhat above normal, although it is still too low. However, to increase the figure would mean that we should have to increase public expenditure, and we cannot do so at present.

Is my hon. Friend aware that his recent decision to enable local authorities to purchase houses that are unoccupied without good reason for two months is much appreciated, because it will prevent the destruction of many good homes by vandals? Will he now consider stepping up the compulsory purchase order procedure so that these matters can be completed within six weeks, as he has done in certain other cases?

We are prepared to examine more efficient processing of CPOs in the Department. I shall examine that matter further. However, we must bear in mind that the vast bulk of houses purchased by local authorities under municipalisation and rehabilitation programmes are handled through negotiation. A small number indeed are the subject of CPOs—a matter of a few hundred compared with something like 17,000 to 20,000 purchased by negotiation. This matter is not as important in terms of policy as it may sometimes appear to be.

When the Minister issues the circular, will he include provisions to remove the restriction on the sale of housing association accommodation units?

The sale of housing association houses is subject to the legislative framework rather than to policy guidelines issued in circulars. The future rôle of housing associations could possibly include the building of houses for low-income families, including shared equity schemes. We are examining these matters.

In preparing his circular, will the Minister include two other matters? First, will he give guidance to local authorities to adopt the North Wiltshire scheme, which would bring more privately-rented accommodation into use, and also have regard to the model form of lease, which is at present a problem? Secondly, will he encourage local authorities to prepare more accurate and comprehensive lists of empty properties in their ownership, having regard to short-life properties which are not included in annual returns?

In the first place short-life properties are included, unless they are classified as slums for demolition. The relet survey covers the purchase as well as the erection of purpose-built properties, with the one qualification I have mentioned. Over 40 authorities, with our encouragement and backing, are undertaking various kinds of listing arrangements. They are not all modelled on the North Wiltshire scheme. Some authorities are giving five- and seven-year leases rather than monthly or short-term arrangements. A special study is being conducted into the leasing arrangements generally, and I hope that it will produce good results.

Fleet Line

13.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about the extension of the Fleet Line to South-East London.

The case for the Fleet/ River Line is being examined in the context of the total strategy for docklands redevelopment, on which my right hon. Friend hopes to make a statement before the Summer Recess.

Is my hon. Friend aware that wherever the Fleet Line eventually ends up, and however it gets there, an announcement is urgently needed on this matter if a great deal of human expertise and equipment is not to be wasted? Is he also aware that the building of this line as far as Fenchurch Street and beyound should not only benefit the redevelopment of the docklands but should help South-East London and the Lewisham area in particular, which traditionally has been the poor relation to London's public transport system?

Greater London is now awaiting comments on a document which has been issued for discussion between the Department and the Greater London authorities. The question as to which part of the Fleet Line should have priority is a matter for the Greater London Council, but it is part of local government responsibility to ensure that public money is well spent.

Will the Minister bear in mind that the harassed commuters of South London, including those in Orpington, have no other form of public transport on which to rely than that provided by the Southern Region of British Rail, which unfortunately is often insufficient and unreliable?

In the discussions on transportation matters between the Greater London Council and other authorities and the Department, full cognisance will be taken of that mater.

Vehicle Testing Examiners

14.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will extend to all authorised examiners running vehicle testing stations who have already had their authorisation withdrawn on a first offence without warning the new modified withdrawal scheme, under which all present and future first offenders are given a written warning first.

I regret that this would not be practicable. There are many cases involved, extending over several years, and there would be great difficulty in ensuring equitable treatment for them all.

Since the Minister has already accepted the principle that it would be appropriate to give warnings, is he not now prepared to accept for reconsideration applications from firms which have had licences withdrawn on a first-come, first-served basis?

There would be great difficulty in making this matter retrospective, and there would also be difficulties in regard to manpower and time spent on these matters in the Department. Most of the firms which have had their authorisations withdrawn have been suspended for a period of five years. That figure relates to the period 1968 to 1971. The bulk of these cases are now returning to the Department and will require a great deal of consideration.

Will my hon. Friend say when it will be possible for firms which lost their authorisations under the old scheme, with some hardship as a result of isolated lapses, to reapply for licences? Does he not agree that many of these firms deserve to be relicensed?

A documentation offence involves a suspension of two years, but other, more serious matters involve suspensions of up to five years.

Lorry Routes

16.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what consultations have been held with the Countryside Commission about the proposed network of heavy lorry routes.

The Countryside Commission commented on the original proposals in December 1974 and discussed the revised proposals of January 1976 with the Department's officials on 26th March.

Is my hon. Friend aware that he has provided welcome information? Does he appreciate that the information available to me earlier was that there had been no discussion with the Countryside Commission prior to drawing up this new map? Is he also aware that the Peak District National Park is extremely disturbed by the proposal that a substantial number of heavy lorry routes will run through the park under the new map proposals?

It is true that a great many lorries already run through the park. We are still considering the whole question of lorry routes and primary routes, bearing in mind that the national parks often have trunk roads running through them. We shall have to consider the need for other roads to deal with this.

Is the Minister aware that some local authorities, and I refer particularly to Cheshire County Council, might well be abusing the 1973 Act in that they are proposing that predominantly rural areas—I refer to North Rode and Gawsworth in my constituency—should have their narrow lanes opened up for use by heavy vehicles, which is surely detrimental to the rural environment and the objectives of the Act?

I would presume that there is no restriction at present on those lanes. It is a matter for local authorities to limit the size of vehicles on roads where such size is considered dangerous for either other vehicles or pedestrians.

Does my hon. Friend confirm the clear statement by his Department that it is its object to exclude heavy lorries and major trunk routes from national parks wherever possible?

Certainly. We shall do this as far as possible. In some national parks, the Peak District National Park in particular, there is heavy industry. Some of us may regret that it is there, but the vehicles need to reach that industry.

Will the Minister open consultations with the Greater London Council in connection with the damage that heavy lorries are causing in large parts of South London? Is he aware that in Richmond areas are being ruined by the number of heavy lorries passing through? Does he appreciate that permission was given for these lorries by the GLC? Will he discuss this matter with the GLC?

Yes. This is a matter for the Greater London Council. The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue in two Adjournment debates. The Greater London Council should take note of what was said on those occasions.

National Carriers Ltd And Freightliners

17.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will consider transferring National Carriers Limited and Freightliners back to British Railways, in the interests of an integrated transport policy.

The consultation document on transport policy invites comments on this proposal.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his hon. Friends correctly warned the Government in 1968 that the present organisation of NCL and Freightliners would result in the transfer of freight from rail to road, contrary to the objective of the 1968 Act? Bearing this in mind, will my right hon. Friend consider taking action to reverse this trend, if necessary implementing the quantity licensing provisions or declaring a withdrawal of the freight subsidy until heavy lorries are taxed according to their true costs?

I note what my hon. Friend has said about the 1968 Act. He will also recall that under that Act the National Freight Corporation has a duty to use rail where to do so is efficient and economic. That duty is clearly upon it, although it is not a mandatory use of rail, for that would be contrary to the purpose of the NFC. Quantity licensing and the other issues which my hon. Friend has mentioned are issues that will be discussed in the course of the consultations on the transport review.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the NFC is this week announcing a record loss of £30 million, half of which comes from National Carriers? Does he recognise that, far above the integration of transport, the public expect action to eliminate those losses?

Many firms and organisations have suffered losses during 1975. There has been the general problem of recession throughout our economy. A consultants' review is taking place into the financial and economic strategy of the NFC.

Council Houses (Sale)

18.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will review his policy on the sale of council houses.

As the House knows, our policy was set out in Circular 70/74. I am keeping the matter under consideration in parallel with the housing finance review.

Rather than go back over all the ground covered earlier, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will accept that there is now widespread evidence of a substantial desire by tenants all ever the country to buy the homes in which they live? If the right hon. Gentleman accepts that, would he not agree that, if we mean business about being a democracy, it is time that all parties in the House responded to that desire?

There is indeed evidence not only of a substantial desire on the part of people all over the country to become owner-occupiers but, I am glad to say, evidence that more people are able to satisfy that desire. The fact that we have now reached the point where 53 per cent. of our fellow countrymen are owner-occupiers is a matter of great satisfaction. I hope that the number will increase.

We have to bear in mind that there is a great shortage of rented houses, particularly in the major urban centres. It is right for us to say that local authorities should take due account of that and make their own judgments in the light of advice given in circulars.

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that, when it is decided that the public's assets should be sold, it is right that they should be sold at full market price and not at a cut price?

My hon. Friend knows that the conditions obtaining for the sale of council houses are a subject on which we have given advice. This is an area where there will inevitably be continuing debate.

If the right hon. Gentleman accepts that there is a need for rented accommodation, why does he not take steps to increase the flow of private rented accommodation?

I might reply to that by asking why the advocates of owner-occupation and the sale of existing local authority rented houses do not advocate the sale of existing private rented accommodation. It is slightly ridiculous. The one thing on which the House as a whole might agree is that the major providers of homes in this country in the 1970s as in the 1960s will be either owner-occupiers or local authorities.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are relieved to hear that he is still committed to the terms of Circular 70/74? Is he further aware that many Conservative-controlled local authorities are determined to ignore the advice of that circular and to sell council houses, showing a total disregard of their obligations to provide a proper pool of rented housing? Does he intend to sit back and let them get away with this blatant asset-stripping? What does my right hon. Friend intend to do to stop this?

There is always the danger in any system of local democracy that there will be an irresponsible use of democratic power. My hon. Friend would be well advised—I should be well advised—not to come out with any emphatic statement at present. We shall have to watch the situation and see how it develops.

Reverting to the point raised by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller), may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take account of the fact that, when private rented accommodation is sold, the sitting tenant usually buys at a lower price than a person buying a house with vacant possession? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that a person who has occupied a council house for a considerable time should have a similar benefit?

That is a factor that has been argued in the past to justify some discount on the sale of local authority houses. I said "some" discount because it is important that there should not be the give-away which some people have been advocating.

Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that in an Adjournment debate last week his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary reaffirmed the propriety of a discount on the sale of council houses?

I thought that the hon. Gentleman had heard what I said. I said that the terms of the discount were important in this context and that there was a case, as has been acknowledged, for some discount, but not a case for massive discount such as some people have been offered.

European Community (Meetings Of Council Of Ministers)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the business to be taken in the Council of Ministers of the European Community during June. The monthly forecast for June was deposited yesterday.

At present, five meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for June. The Foreign Ministers' meeting, which begins on 31st May, will continue on 1st June. [Interruption.] Foreign Ministers will meet again on the 28th and 29th; Energy Ministers on the 10th: Agriculture Ministers on the 21st and 22nd; and Social Affairs Ministers on 29th and 30th June. [Interruption.] There will also be a tripartite conference on 24th June of Finance and Employment Ministers, the Commission and European employer and trades union organisation. [Interruption.]

As part of the follow-up to the informal meeting of Foreign Ministers on 14th and 15th May, Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council on 1st June are likely to resume consideration of the Tindemans Report and direct elections to the European Assembly. They are also likely to discuss passport union. On 31st May, Ministers will sign the Commercial Cooperation Agreement concluded in March 1976 between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the EEC. [Interruption.] There will also probably be consideration of Commission proposals for an agreement with Iran; the Community's external financial commitments; financial aid internal regulations in relation to the Maghreb and Malta; and discussion on Spain and Cyprus sherry. Ministers will also consider the siting of JET and preparations for Association Councils with Greece and Turkey.

At the Council on 28th and 29th June, Ministers will resume discussion of the overall Mediterranean approach and relations with the member countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. Ministers at both Council meetings will consider the problems posed by the prospect of 200-mile fishery limits and the current state of work in the four Commissions set up following the Conference on International Economic Co-operation. [Interruption.]

Ministers at the Energy Council will resume consideration of the energy policy guidelines adopted by the European Council on 1st and 2nd December 1975 and measures to be taken in the event of oil supply difficulties.

In June, Agriculture Ministers will resume their discussions of imports of New Zealand butter in the period 1978–80 and will also probably consider amended arrangements for beef imports.

At the Social Affairs Council, Ministers are expected to have before them draft directives on the safeguarding of employees' rights in the case of mergers and on the education of migrant workers' children. They will also consider uniform payment of family benefits and may consider the outcome of the tripartite economic and social conference to be held on 24th June.

The tripartite conference on 24th June is expected to focus on the employment situation in the Community. [Interruption.] The outcome of the conference is likely to be considered at the Social Affairs Council.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a great swell of background noise and it is impossible to hear the Minister speaking.

The hon. Gentleman is a little late. I called for order twice. The House seems to be excited.

The Minister has outlined a formidable programme of work, but perhaps this it not the best moment to cross-examine him on it. However, will he reaffirm the undertaking which has often been sought by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) that the Minister concerned will make a statement to the House on any of these meetings at which significant decisions are taken?

I reaffirm that assurance absolutely, but I do not necessarily think that my interpretation of "significant" will agree with that of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten).

During that long, rambling statement, which none of us heard, I believe that I may have heard some reference to the Ministers of Agriculture meeting to discuss something to do with butter and beef. If that is the case, may we have an assurance that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will discuss the question of the allowance of the import of beef from Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries without let or hindrance and will not play ball with the other Common Market countries in storing beef to keep the price up and thus prevent the British housewife from getting beef at a reasonable price? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that no agreement will be reached unless we discuss it in this House?

I am sorry if my hon. Friend did not hear all my statement but, knowing his assiduity in this matter, I am sure that, if he has read the written statement yesterday and has checked all the details in it, he will understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will be preserving the interests of the British consumer. At the same time, he will want to balance the interests of the agriculture industry in this country. A balance has to be struck between the two.

What preliminary proceedings will there be in this House before the meeting at which direct elections are to be further considered?

I have already told the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members that the Government accept without qualification that these are matters on which the House has to express its opinion, and the Select Committee was set up exactly for that purpose. I hope that it will move at such a speed that the House can consider and vote upon its report before any definite decisions have to be taken in the Council of Ministers. If, however, the House is sceptical about that, it might, as I have said, be reassured by one thing—that there cannot be direct elections until a Bill is carried in the House making it possible, and therefore the House's veto, if one wants to talk in such florid terms, is absolute.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports in reputable English newspapers that the Commission is proposing that the Community should repudiate the agreement reached in Dublin in 1975 for the import of New Zealand butter into this country after 1980? Can he assure us that the British Government will not accept any repudiation of that agreement?

I assure my right hon. Friend that repudiation will be intolerable and, therefore, impossible. We undertook commitments to New Zealand. Those commitments we have to fulfil, and we will fulfil them.

Does the Ministers statement mean that the 200-mile limit is now official Community policy? Is it intended to discuss either the Icelandic situation or further representations at the Law of the Sea Conference? Is it intended to discuss the position of individual countries and their limits within the Community, and the protection of fishery stocks?

The Community is not yet corporately committed to the 200-mile limit. We have accepted that a 200-mile limit is the most likely outcome of the Law of the Sea Conference, but other member countries of the Community do not believe that it will be and hope that it will not be. Our policy will be to encourage other member nations to accept the reality and act on that principle.

The right hon. Gentleman's question involves the vexed issue of Community competence. We will insist that the Community's right to negotiate these matters with third countries, including Iceland, is in part dependent on its willingness to produce a common fisheries policy which meets the needs of the British fishing industry. One of our primary obligations and enthusiasms in the Community in the next six months will be to obtain a revision in that policy, and all other fishing issues will have to be subservient to that.

My right hon. Friend's statement indicated that the Tindemans Report on European union will be discussed yet again. Can he give an assurance that there will be a debate in this House before that report is discussed for the second time? If it cannot be debated before 31st May, can we have a debate before 28th June, thus fulfilling the obligation to the House which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced shortly after taking office in that post?

The report has been discussed formally and informally more than twice among European Foreign Ministers and will be discussed several more times before the Community feels in a position to implement it or reject it. Whether a debate should be held between the first and second or the second and third meetings is a question for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who will no doubt have taken note of what my hon. Friend has said.

Among the many meetings which the right hon. Gentleman's rather muffled statement has given us to believe will take place, the one of the Energy Council is not unimportant. The issues concerned with the framework of energy policy centre largely around the floor price. The House will be interested to know where we are going on the Joint European Torus and also on Euratom finance. Will these matters also be dealt with at the Energy Council meeting?

I am sorry that the statement was muffled. That was not my responsibility but that of the House, which is expecting another statement of some sort in a few moments. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Joint European Torus will be discussed. We shall adopt the same position as a month ago, which is that Culham is the appropriate site. The financing to which the right hon. Gentleman drew attention will also be on the agenda for one meeting or another.

I think I heard the Minister say, above the hubbub in the House, that the Minister of Agriculture would take steps to preserve the interests of the British consumer with regard to beef and butter. What are the steps that he will take?

What my hon. Friend heard me say was that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture would next month—as he has done during the last 28 months—balance the importance of preserving the interests of the consumer with the equally important task of preserving the domestic industry, because indeed the British consumer is in no small measure dependent on our making sure that the domestic industry is viable. Balancing those two things, which may on occasions appear irreconcilable in the short term but which are wholly the same in the long term, will be the continued intention of my right hon. Friend.

On the question of direct elections, which the Ministers will discuss, may we have an assurance from the Government that they will not unreasonably force the pace of the work of the Select Committee? If the Select Committee comes up with a report based on insufficient evidence and investigation, it will not be taken very seriously.

I do not think that the Select Committee feels that the problem exists as the hon. Gentleman has described it. The Select Committee knows the reality of the situation. There is a timetable of work within the Community. Quite uniquely, the Government have invited the House of Commons to set up a Select Committee which is monitoring the Government's attitudes and commenting on the Government's decisions. If the Select Committee, of which I am honoured to be a member, wants to influence Government decisions before they are taken rather than comment on them after they are taken, the Select Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I shall allow the hon. Gentlemen to indulge in their scathing indignation in a moment—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think I am in order in pointing out that only you can decide who shall or shall not make any statement in the House. My right hon. Friend was saying that he would give permission to an hon. Member to make a statement, but it is you, Mr. Speaker, who give permission.

Order. Since I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), on that harmonious note perhaps the Minister will continue.

The Government—as was understood and accepted by the House when we debated these matters—must, if it is to influence Europe, operate in relation to a timetable which is not altogether according to our decisions. What we hope, and what I believe the majority of the House hopes, is that the Select Committee will operate at a speed which enables the House to influence the Government before the decision is taken. That is certainly our wish, and I believe it to be the wish of the House as well.

Will the Minister give the House the assurance that when he goes to the Commission he will let it know that all sections of the British fishing industry are absolutely adamant that nothing less than 100 miles is acceptable? Will he also tell the Commission that in the forthcoming negotiations which will be necessary with a country on the other side of the North Sea—namely, Norway—only a representative of the British Government will carry out these negotiations and not somebody in the EEC who knows nothing whatsoever about the problem?

I would find it very difficult to say that in good conscience, because when I last attended the Council of Ministers and talked about our needs, being invariably within 50 miles of the British shore and most often within 35 miles of it, I received a telegram of support and congratulations from the leader of the Scottish fishing industry.

May I take it that the appropriate Ministers will be discussing the harmonisation of import control throughout the EEC, now that Italy has introduced import control?

What I hope the Foreign Ministers will consider is the traditional policy of the Community to help those members who have special economic difficulties. When the Government of Italy, suffering from problems from which we have never suffered—I hope my hon. Friend will not suggest otherwise—came to the Community for special aid, the Community was ready to provide it. I have no doubt that that is absolutely consistent with the general attitude of the Nine.

Whatever view we may take about direct elections, does not the Minister agree that it is an insult to the House and to the Select Committee to hint that a decision may be taken about this before the report of the Select Committee is received?

No, I do not agree, because the decision is by no means in our hands. I do not agree also for a second reason. If the House disapproves of the position that the Government take up, the House has absolute power in its own hands not to vote for a Bill to implement direct elections. Those of us who have been involved in the question of direct elections have said for almost two years that whatever else is a Community competence, as opposed to the competence of the House of Commons, this cannot be in that category. If the House of Commons does not approve of the corporate decision on direct elections within the Nine, the House of Commons can refuse to pass the Bill that makes that possible. What the Government are asking is for the Commons to help them in making their initial decision as to what compromise solution they come to. If, however, the timetable makes it impossible for the House of Commons Select Committee to advise the Government sufficiently early, I say again that the eventual power is in the hands of the House of Commons, which may, if it so chooses, defeat a Bill proposed to it by the Government for implementing direct elections.

Aircraft And Shipbuilding Industries Bill (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

Yesterday afternoon I gave a ruling in relation to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, in reply to a point of order raised by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). This ruling was directed to the matters raised by the hon. Member in a written statement which he had been kind enough to give me earlier yesterday. However, in his oral point of order the hon. Member put forward new matter of which I had not hitherto been made aware.

I promised to make further inquiries and to make a statement when the Bill was reached. I have carried out my undertaking and have received representations from both sides of the House.

After long and anxious thought, I now rule that the Bill under discussion is prima facie hybrid.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Michael Foot)

rose

May I first thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the way in which you received the representations that several of us made to you on this subject.

In view of your statement, it is clearly impossible for the House of Commons to proceed with the Bill today. But may I make it also equally clear—and I hope the House will agree with this—that the House should have the earliest possible opportunity of deciding how we proceed with the Bill.

The jobs and the livelihood of many people are involved—[Interruption.] We at least, Mr. Speaker, are not prepared to put those jobs and the livelihood of people at risk. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, the Government propose to table, as first business tomorrow, a motion which the House can decide to accept or to reject, whichever it wishes. It is for the House to decide. But the motion will have the full backing of the Government. Our motion reads as follows:
"That, in view of the grave consequences for the industries concerned and for those employed in them of further delay and uncertainty in further proceedings on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, the consideration of the application thereto of the provisions of any Standing Order relating to Private Business be dispensed with."

Is the Lord President addressing you, Mr. Speaker, on a point of order or is he making a Business Statement to the House? It is not clear to me which is happening.

I think that it is a little of both. But the Lord President was making a statement arising out of my ruling, and I think that he should be allowed to finish.

If the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) would prefer it, I can say that it is a statement about the business of the House. It is a statement which I began by saying that I did not believe that we could proceed now with the business on the Order Paper, and I was seeking—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I had risen on a point of order, but I was under the impression that the Lord President had preceded me on a point of order. I think, therefore, that this is the correct moment to thank you for the consideration which you were—

Order. I shall call the hon. Member for Tiverton next. I think that we should allow the Lord President to finish what he was saying.

If I might continue with my statement, I was not making it on a point of order because I believed that it would have been a bogus point of order. I was rising to comment, Mr. Speaker, on your statement—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the statement of the Lord President—[HON. MEMBERS: "He has not finished yet."] In view of that statement, is not the right hon. Gentleman admitting that the Bill has to go to a Select Committee? That being so, is there any point in his continuing to talk about what he would like to happen, as opposed to what has to happen under the rules of the House?

The answer to that question is that it is customary, when a ruling is made which affects the House and Government business, that an opportunity for a statement follows. I suggest that we hear what the Lord President has to say, and then we can hear another point of view.

I was seeking to give the House the very first opportunity to hear the Government's view about how we should proceed, in view of your statement, Mr. Speaker. I was indicating to the House how the House of Commons itself could deal with this problem tomorrow—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course, it will be open to the House to decide—[Interruption.] It will be open to the House to decide this matter not by shouting but by votes. In the course of the debate tomorrow, in order to remove any element of doubt on the subject of hybridity—[HON. MEMBERS: "There is no doubt."]—the Government would at Report stage—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hesitate to interrupt the Lord President again, but I understood that you, Mr. Speaker, had given a ruling about the hybridity of the Bill. Therefore, it is not in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman to challenge it now.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) has put it to you in terms that what the Lord President is saying is a challenge to your ruling. There can be no question about whether the rules apply. Will you rule accordingly?

I have already given a ruling to the House, and that ruling stands. But I think that it is only an act of courtesy to listen to the Leader of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you rule whether it is in order for the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and several others—

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover. I shall try to get it right this time. Will you rule, Mr. Speaker, whether it is in order for the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) and several other Opposition Members to use terms such as those which have been used in the past five minutes, including "Leader of the Reichstag" and "Fascist"—[Interruption.]—

Order. The House is not behaving with any credit to itself. I was about to say that I wanted to hear the point of order to its end, but I think that the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) has made his point. The House knows that I deprecate the hurling of abuse across the Chamber. I hope that the Lord President will be allowed to conclude his statement.

May I say that—[HON. MEMBERS: "Resign!"]—as I am sure you, Mr. Speaker, would be eager to confirm, I have said nothing which is in any sense a challenge to your ruling—

As I am sure you would be the first to confirm, Mr. Speaker, I have said nothing which is a challenge to your ruling. I am simply proposing to the House that we should have a motion tomorrow—[HON. MEMBERS: "Cheat!"] I am proposing that we should have a motion tomorrow which can deal—

What I am proposing is that the House of Commons tomorrow should have the opportunity to deal with the consequences of your ruling, Mr. Speaker—the consequences for people in the shipyards and in the aircraft industry in this country. Our recommendation tomorrow, on which the House of Commons itself will be able to pronounce judgment, is that we should be able to proceed with this Bill with utmost speed. [HON. MEMBERS: "You are cheating."] As I was saying when I was interrupted by two bogus points of order—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is bad enough surely that the right hon. Gentleman should challenge your view that there is a hybrid Bill before the House. Even worse is the fact that he is suggesting that those who believe that we should follow the procedure for hybrid Bills should be ridden over by the Government.

Order. I hope that the House will listen to the remainder of the Lord President's speech.

As I was saying, Mr. Speaker, to remove any element of doubt from the subject—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that what the right hon. Gentleman has just said confirms that he is challenging your ruling. I do not believe there can be anyone in this House who detected an element of doubt in what you ruled.

I have heard no challenge to my ruling. The House has heard my ruling but now the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to put his point of view.

I will take this point of order but I must point out that points of order which are not really points of order hold up the business of the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has a genuine point of order.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that no progress is being made on this matter and that tempers are heated, would you suspend the sitting and reconvene the House when everyone has cooled down?