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Business Of The House

Volume 929: debated on Wednesday 6 April 1977

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May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the week after the Easter Recess?

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

Yes, Sir.

The business for the week following the Easter Recess will be as follows:

TUESDAY 19TH APRIL—Supply [12th Allotted Day]: there will be a debate on the Army on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

WEDNESDAY 20TH APRIL—Opening of the debate on the White Paper on direct elections to the European Assembly, Command No. 6768.

THURSDAY 21ST APRIL—Supply [13th Allotted Day]: subject for debate to be announced later.

Motion on EEC Documents R/2126/75, R/3186/76, R/898/76 and R/2384/76 on food labelling.

FRIDAY 22ND APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 25TH APRIL—Conclusion of the debate on the White Paper on direct elections to the European Assembly.

Is there any very good reason for not having the debate on direct elections to the European Parliament on two consecutive days? It seems an extraordinary procedure to split it up in this way. We made it clear that we would be only too ready to have our Supply Day on the Monday rather than on the Thursday after our return, in order to have two consecutive days for the debate on the White Paper on direct elections. On what motion will the debate arise?

I expect that the debate will arise, at any rate on the first day, on a motion for the Adjournment. The right hon. Gentleman has asked why the debate is to be split. When we were considering having a two-day debate in the week after our return, many representations were made to us that such a course would be inconvenient, in some respects, for some hon. Members from different parties who will be participating in the affairs in Europe during that week and that some of them want the opportunity of taking part in our debate here. We therefore sought to serve that convenience as well as the general convenience of the House.

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect to be making a statement on the establishment of a conference to sit under your Chairmanship, Mr. Speaker?

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman any date at present, but I assure him that the Government are pursuing the undertaking that we gave to the House during the debates a week or two ago.

On what motion will the debate on the White Paper on direct elections be taken?

I suggested that on the Wednesday, the first day of the debate, it should take place on a motion for the Adjournment. Perhaps that would also be the most convenient procedure for the following Monday.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that two weeks ago he undertook to me, and a week ago undertook to one of his hon. Friends, that a statement would be made on the problem of the inner cities? When is it to be?

There is to be a statement on it today. I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman did not receive fuller notice.

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman get his diary synchronised with the diaries of those of us who go to the European Parliament? Will he not reconsider the whole question of having a debate on direct elections in the one week in the month that the European Parliament is meeting in Strasbourg?

The hon. Lady has illustrated the problems that we have in this matter. She now asks that we should not have the debate at all during the week of our return from the Easter Recess, whereas the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) asked for the whole debate to be taken during that week. We have to take account of representations from both those important parts of the House.

Has the time not come when the House should debate the chaos caused by local government reorganisation and the abuse of power by Tory-dominated councils such as that in Leicestershire, which has removed travel concessions from the old, the blind and home helps?

I fully agree with my hon. and learned Friend, as I am sure the great mass of people do, about the inconvenience caused in so many parts of the country by the so-called local government reform put through by the Conservatives. If we were to change it all at once, the repercussions would last a long time.

Could we not have the debate on the European elections on the Monday and Tuesday of the week after the week in which we come back? That would meet the convenience of the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing). On the Wednesday thus left free, could we not perhaps debate inter-party relations on a take-note motion?

I am not sure that that would be the best way to discuss such matters. All these questions on the subject of the debate on direct elections illustrate the difficulty of satifying everyone in all parts of the House. I think that the debate as arranged will enable the House as a whole and hon. Members in all parts of it, whatever their connections with other assemblies or bodies in Europe, to take part.

But would not my right hon. Friend accept that, as this will be the first major debate on direct elections after the publication of the White Paper, it would be far more coherent if two days were allocated consecutively in the second week after our return? As there will not be too much time, given that Easter intervenes and quite a number of people will not use that period to prepare themselves through study of the subject, and that the country should have an opportunity to consider the problem, would not everyone be served much better if my right hon. Friend agreed to having the debate on the two consecutive days of Monday and Tuesday of the week after that in which we return, and not split the debate up?

No doubt it would serve some of my hon. Friends better if that arrangement were made, but the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border made representations in the opposite sense, asking that the whole of the two-day debate should be held in the first week. We have tried to meet the difficulties of hon. Members in all parts of the House. I do not think that dividing the debate, with a few days between the two parts, is necessarily disadvantageous. It has occurred on many previous occasions. It can assist the process of digestion in between the two days.

In view of the Government's shattering defeat last night, will the right hon. Gentleman give a clear assurance that the Secretary of State for Scotland will make an early statement withdrawing his outrageous proposals for Scottish teacher training or, if he is not willing to budge, announcing his resignation?

What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland issued was a consultative document. What happened yesterday was part of the consultations.

When can my right hon. Friend provide time for the Leader of the Opposition—God help the Tory Party!—to state the new and totally irresponsible Tory position on immigrants and their dependants?

When will the right hon. Gentleman allow the House to discuss the problem of immigration, bearing in mind that, on 9th February, the Home Secretary, when he was dealing with the Franks Committee Report, said that he would welcome such a debate, and that, on 22nd March, the Home Secretary laid before the House new rules concerning the entry of fiancés into this country? Both these issues should be debated by the House.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that these are matters which should be debated in the House at some stage and that it would be convenient if the two points he mentioned were debated at the same time. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) has urged that we should have a separate debate on the rules, and I shall certainly consider the suggestion that he has made. We would hope, if we can, to be able to arrange the debates on the same day.

With regard to the debate on direct elections, does my right hon. Friend agree that the representations made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were for two consecutive days, not necessarily in the first week when we return? Would my right hon. Friend not accept that holding the debate on Monday and Tuesday, 25th and 26th April, is much more appropriate than splitting this very important debate, particularly since Easter comes between the time of the issue of the White Paper and the reconvening of the House?

The representations from right hon. and hon. Members opposite were not only on the question of having the two days of debate together. There were also representations asking that we should have the debate in the week when we return. My hon. Friends will be able to put their case during the debates that have been fixed, and I do not believe they will suffer any injury whatsoever in the presentation of their case by what we have proposed.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the reply that he has just given to his hon. Friends the Members for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)? The debate on direct elections to the Strasbourg Assembly is of immense constitutional significance to the status of this House of Commons. Would it not be more appropriate if the debate were to take place on consecutive days rather than that we should have a fractured debate?

I do not think there is any proposition for having a fractured debate. There have been many occasions in the history of this House when there has been an interval of a few days between the first day of a debate and the second day. I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said about the great importance of this matter for this House. That is why the Government have presented the question in a consultative document of this kind which sets out the various options. The House will be able to discuss them and will have a full opportunity for doing so.

Order. May I remind the House that there are two major statements to follow.

Can we not have a two-day debate on direct elections during the fortnight after Easter and use the Wednesday immediately after Easter to have two debates—a general debate on immigration, called for by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), followed by a debate on the immigration rules, which require specific treatment because there are issues of principle that are divorced from the general immigration issue?

No doubt many of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members could suggest a whole series of different subjects to discuss on any day of the week when we return. But that would mean the loss of a day to the days available to the Government and the House for general discussion. Taking into account all the different factors, I believe that what we have proposed is the best for the House as a whole. It takes into account representations that have been made in many quarters of the House.

Will the Leader of the House try to find some advantage out of what appears to be the disadvantage of splitting the debate on direct elections? May I suggest that there is a possible advantage in having a period of reflection of a few days between the first and second days provided that we can reach a conclusion on the first day and then consider some specific points on the second day?

I do not think that that would be for the convenience of the House. I believe that a more general debate over the two days will serve the interest of the House as a whole.

Will my right hon. Friend not reconsider the answer that he has given to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition? Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Lord President to have further discussions with the Opposition on this matter. Will my right hon. Friend for once stop being stubborn in relation to what this House wants and actually take note of the feelings of hon. Members? There are many discussions that we could have on the Wednesday we return. It seems that the feeling of the House is that we should have a two-day discussion and, if that it what the House wants, we ought to have it.

My hon. Friend may have his own definition of stubbornness. It is not only a question of taking into account the representations that he has made—and he is perfectly entitled to make them. It is partly as a consequence of this kind of representation and consideration that we have proposed the second day of the debate in the subsequent week. What was desired by some hon. Members was that we should have the two-day debate in the first week after we return, but the Government took the view that we would not be serving the interests of my hon. Friends, and many other hon. Members, if we did that. I recommend what we propose to the House.

Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate on the problems of those in the building industry from whom No. 714 certificates have been withheld and who face joining a growing dole queue as a result?

I cannot offer a special debate at the moment, but I shall look at what the hon. Gentleman has proposed.

Order. I shall call another two hon. Members from each side of the House.

Will my right hon. Friend remember that 33 hon. Members from all sides of the House will be in Strasbourg at the Council of Europe Assembly during the week beginning 25th April, and if he were to switch the debate to that week it would mean that they would not have a chance to take part?

That is one of the considerations that we have taken into account, but if we were to hold the debate in either of those weeks it would be of inconvenience to some hon. Members in some parts of the House.

Is the Leader of the House aware that another casualty last night was the unlamented Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill? In view of imminence of Easter, and the GLC elections, will the Leader of the House undertake not to bring this Bill forward before the elections when, with any luck, the whole thing will be lost?

The hon. Gentleman's question relates to Private Business, which is a different matter altogether.

Does my right hon. Friend remember last business questions when I asked for a debate on fishing and he said that we could deal with it on Monday night? There was deep resentment on all sides of the House at the fact that it was assumed than in 1½ hours we could have any kind of consistent fisheries debate. Will my right hon. Friend now undertake to give a full day for discussion of questions which are becoming more critical as each day passes?

I cannot promise my hon. Friend another full day on the subject, but I shall look at the possibilities of the matter being raised on some other occasion. I also recommend to my hon. Friend that there are other occasions, apart from those specified by the Government, when matters can be raised in the House.

With regard to another important subject, will the Leader of the House find time to allow the House to debate the Flowers Report, since it is many months since that important report was published? If Parliament is to be properly consulted, it makes sense that it should have the opportunity to express its view before the publication of the Government's White Paper and not after it.

Many important subjects have been raised. The choice of subjects for debate lies not only in the hands of the Government but in the hands of others, too. The hon. Gentleman might make representations to his own Front Bench.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is now 4.12 p.m. and there are many hon. Members still desiring to speak on the important point about when the direct elections debate is to be held. As on some occasions we have had longer periods of business questions, may I appeal to you to allow some more expression of opinion until every hon. Member who wishes has had a chance to make his point?

The hon. Gentleman does not know any better than I know what questions hon. Members wish to ask. He may guess. I often guess, and then I move on.