Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 931: debated on Thursday 12 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Thursday 12th May 1977

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Before I instruct the Clerk to read the titles of Private Bills, I should draw the attention of the House to the fact that Private Business has been printed on the Order Paper immediately before the Orders of the Day and not, as is customary, immediately before Questions.

I must also draw attention to the fact that the Prime Minister's Questions have not been numbered in their customary sequence, though they are in a separate list.

Private Business

Shrewsbury And Atcham Borough Council (Frankwell Footbridge) Bill (By Order)

Read the Third time and passed.

City Of London (Various Powers) Bill Lords (By Order)

Emu Wine Holdings Limited And Subsidiary Companies Bill Lords (By Order)

Heritable Securities And Mortgage Investment Association Limited Bill Lords (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read

To be read a Second time upon Thursday next.

Oral Answers To Questions

Northern Ireland

Loyalist United Unionist Action Council

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has held with the Loyalist United Unionist Action Council; and if he will make a statement.

I hope that the House will understand when I say at the outset that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has deemed it important that he should stay in Northern Ireland today. I hope that the House also understands that no discourtesy is intended.

In answer to the Question, none, Sir. On 2nd May, before the stoppage began, my right hon. Friend met the Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), and the Leader of the United Ulster Unionist Party, Mr. Baird, in their capacity as leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland. He asked them to use their influence to prevent the stoppage called by the UUAC and told them that such action could only help the IRA and weaken Northern Ireland's economy. I am sorry that they disregarded this advice; but I am glad that most people in Northern Ireland have courageously rejected the misguided strike call.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the people of both the majority and minority communities in Northern Ireland should be congratulated by the House on the sane and sensible attitude they have taken to the atmosphere of thuggery and intimidation which somehow seems to surround the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) almost everywhere he goes? Does he also agree that a measure of unity in the face of adversity of this nature seems to have pervaded the community generally and that this small measure of unity could grow and become something bigger? Does he further agree that steps of a carefully pre pared nature should be taken to try to capitalise on this position and bring the various communities together to utilise it as best we can?

I think that the people of Northern Ireland have shown their determination to keep life going in the Province. Although they may and do feel strongly about the security situation, they see that the stoppage could only be harmful for Northern Ireland. 'This is a victory for the courage and good sense of the people of Northern Ireland and for responsible leaders of opinion there.

Will the Minister of State convey our good wishes to the Secretary of State in this crisis? Does he agree that it has demonstrated not only the courage and resolution of working people but the splendid calibre of the RUC and the way in which it has become an effective and impartial police force?

There has been a great amount of intimidation. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how many cases of intimidation have been reported to the police and what charges have been or are being made? We can only hope that the offenders will be dealt with severely.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes, which I shall convey to my right hon. Friend later this afternoon.

Well over 1,000 cases of intimidation have been reported to the RUC. I should point out that, of all the people coming out of this situation with a lot of credit, the RUC is certainly coming out with great credit. I repeat that well over 1,000 cases of intimidation have been reported. The methods of intimidation are so insidious—some have been made over the telephone—that it is difficult to get evidence or people to back up the evidence. Over 100 cases have been taken up of which just under 30 involve intimidation charges.

Is my hon. Friend aware that within the last 24 hours one of the leaders of the Loyalist United Unionist Action Council—namely, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—has made allegations that the SAS was responsible for the murder of the bus driver in the city of Belfast? Is he aware that the hon. Member also alleged that the CIA had had discussions with the RUC in an attempt to defame the Loyalist population? Does my hon. Friend think that there is any truth in those allegations? Alternatively, does he agree with me and with many thousands of people in Northern Ireland that the hon. Member for Antrim, North is in urgent need of psychiatric treatment and that he is more to be pitied than blamed?

Does my hon. Friend agree that over the past few days the RUC—and I am speaking as Leader of the SDLP—has been engaged in actions which have engendered a lot of trust in the Roman Catholic community? Will he congratulate the law-abiding people of Toomebridge who assisted the RUC in the removal of illegal road blocks?

It is not worth wasting the time of the House by replying to any of the absurd accusations made about the murder of the bus driver and other matters. I have attended two meetings with the bus drivers and their representatives. I would sooner take their word than that of anyone else. I was proud to be associated with the bus drivers and the action they have taken. The Toomebridge incident was regrettable. If the obstructions had not been on the road illegally, nothing would have happened.

Political Situation

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Northern Ireland political situation.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he intends to take any political initiative.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will now reconsider his policy towards the restoration of a Stormont Parliament.

It remains the Government's primary aim to establish in Northern Ireland a system of devolved government that has been built on agreement between political leaders and that has the respect and support of the majority on both sides of the community. If it is the general wish, however, the Government will be ready to consider arrangements for partial devolution provided that what is being devolved is real power and responsibility. There has been much discussion recently of the Macrory gap—between 26 district councils and Government and Parliament at Westminster. My right hon. Friend recognises that this is a matter of genuine concern and is hoping that the political parties in Northern Ireland will want to hold discussions on the issue after the local government elections.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he accept that it is important, even in these difficult times, that one should think about the future of Northern Ireland? My hon. Friend's reply, which indicated that administrative devolution is still on the agenda, is significant. Does he agree that the political future of Northern Ireland is very much bound up with the economic situation? Does he agree that the present problems and difficulties exacerbate the economic problem of Northern Ireland and discourage investment in the Province?

I am in charge of the Commerce and Manpower Departments in Northern Ireland. The recent incidents will do incalculable damage to the economy of Northern Ireland. We cannot calculate the damage. The sooner the present situation is over and we can again spread confidence in Northern Ireland industry, the better.

Have not recent events made quite clear that there is a political vacuum which is adverse to democracy in Northern Ireland? We are pleased about what the Minister said, but can he say whether the Secretary of State will be willing to entertain proposals from the official Opposition for a political forum?

I have not noticed that there is a political vacuum in Northern Ireland, nor has there been one for some time. The possibility of discussions about improving the existing structure of local government in Northern Ireland is in our minds. There are no cut-and-dried solutions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State hopes that the political parties will want to hold discussions as soon as the local government elections are over.

Administrative devolution has been mentioned. Will the Minister take it from me that the people of Northern Ireland do not want administrative devolution? They do not want a second tier of local government, because it would be bureaucratic and costly. Does the Minister accept that the people of Northern Ireland want the restoration of the Stormont Parliament, despite what certain members of the Unionist coalition say at the moment?

That might be the hon. Gentleman's view. It is certainly not the opinion of everyone in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman will have the chance to express his opinions.

With regard to the concluding part of the Minister's reply, may I ask whether his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would be willing to assist by putting forward from the Government an outline of the kind of proposals that would be likely to secure the Government's agreement?

As I have said, we intend to hold discussions. We are waiting for the air to clear on the political front after the local government elections.

I welcome the Minister's comments on behalf of the Government this afternoon. Will he shortly announce really positive powers and responsibility for local government in Ulster? Is he aware that during my recent visit to Northern Ireland many complaints were made that there was no real power for local government at the moment? Is he aware that this was much regretted by the able and competent people who wish to administer the Province?

In my time in Northern Ireland I have also been responsible for local government. Local councillors have ways and means of putting forward their views. The hon. Member says that they have no power. One has only to examine certain booklets from local government offices saying how much power they have or look at the amount of money they spend each year to discover that they have plenty of power. There is a gap between local councils and the central Government. We want to talk about that as soon as the local elections are over.

Republic Of Ireland Citizens (Welfare Benefit)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in what circumstances citizens of the Irish Republic may become entitled to supplementary or unemployment benefit in Northern Ireland by reason of the ending in 1977 of the derogation from freedom of movement of labour in the European Economic Community

The termination on 31st December 1977 of the derogation in respect of Northern Ireland in regard to the free movement of workers within the European Economic Community will have no effect on the existing conditions under which citizens of the Republic of Ireland may receive unemployment benefit or supplementary benefit in Northern Ireland. The five-year residence test for supplementary benefit remains in operation.

Is the Minister aware that his reply will help to dispel the quite widespread impression in Northern Ireland that following the end of the derogation there may be a considerable number of citizens of the Republic entering Northern Ireland for the purpose of collecting supplementary benefit and unemployment pay? Is he aware that his answer will be valuable in that context?

I understand the fears represented by the right hon. Gentleman in his question. As he said, they are based only on an impression. Nothing changes as a result of the derogation

Prisoners

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many prisoners have broken prison rules; how much remission they have lost; and what is the range of crimes which they have committed, for the latest convenient period.

As at 10th May 1977, 99 prisoners convicted of offences committed after 1st March 1976 were refusing to wear prison clothing or to work. Ten female prisoners were also refusing to work. This is a breach of prison rules and an offence against discipline. Adjudications by prison governors take place at regular intervals and as at 10th may 145 prisoners had been punished and had forfeited some 27 years—9,936 days—remission of sentence. This includes loss of remission by 52 prisoners who were formerly refusing to wear prison clothes or to work but who are now conforming to prison rules.

The crimes for which these prisoners were committed to prison include murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, explosions and other firearms and explosives offences.

Will my hon. Friend say how many prisoners are conforming? With regard to his policy of ending special category status, which many of us supported, will he give us some comment, in the light of all these figures, about how this policy is working?

The best answer I can give is that while 99 prisoners are not conforming, 218 are conforming to prison rules and discipline.

As I have said on many occasions before, the ending of special category status is now a fact and has been so for over a year. The Government are formally committed to this policy. From the peak figure of nearly 1,600 special category prisoners, we have come down to 998 at the last count.

To what extent is the breaking of prison discipline a matter for prison visitors? If it is entirely the responsibility of visitors to adjudicate in these cases, will the Minister say whether he is entirely satisfied with the operation of these boards?

I am entirely satisfied with the operation of these boards. The prisoners are allowed a statutory visit, I believe, once a month. If I am wrong in that respect I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

The prisoners are liable to lose other privileges such as parcels and so on. But I am quite happy and contented with the activities of the prison visitors.

Advance Factories And Industrial Assistance

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many advance factories have been built in Northern Ireland; and how much money has been provided in various forms of assistance to industry in Northern Ireland since 1945

A total of 129 advance factories has been built in Northern Ireland costing £160 million, and just over £602 million has been paid in various forms of assistance to manufacuring industry since 1945. In addition, £268¾ million expended in the same period on selective employment payment—£237½ million—and on training and other employment subsidies—£30¾ million—benefited employers generally but mainly those in manufacturing industry.

I welcome that information. Have the present difficulties in any way endangered—or does the Minister suspect that they are likely to endanger—the further industrial and commercial development in Northern Ireland which he and his colleagues have so vigorously sought? Are there any possible areas of development which currently hang fire depending on an early resolution of the dispute?

There are certain areas of development which are hanging fire in this respect. In my travels and in talking to business men and industrialists throughout the world, I have found that the main factor which we have to build up is confidence.

When we were just getting over the last strike I used to argue that it was a one-off situation. I should find it very difficult to argue that this a two-off situation. But the sooner the strike is over, with the damage that it is doing to the economy in Northern Ireland, the sooner we can get back to doing our job and the sooner I can do my job.

Bearing in mind the difficulty that the Minister mentioned earlier of making a provisional assessment of the damage done in recent weeks, will he comment on the statement by an eminent member of Queen's University that the damage might amount to some £5 million? Does he think that that is roughly the figure?

I think that that is a terribly low estimate. In regard to one development that is now hanging fire, the figure is certainly five times that amount.

Will my hon. Friend tell us how many of the total number of advance factories have been let?

Of the 129 advance factories, 116 are currently in use. There are other premises that we have provided which total another 276—namely, purpose-built factories and factory premises provided for the Local Enterprise Development Units and for purchase and so on. There are not only the advance factories, which total 129. There are another 276 as well.

Education

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what percentage of children in Northern Ireland attend selective schools.

In Northern Ireland about 33 per cent. of children of secondary school age attend grammar schools.

Will the Government urge the education authorities, the boards of management and the Church authorities to help to create more equality of educational opportunity for all the children of Northern Ireland by putting an end to the unfair system of selection into these grammar schools and replacing it by a fairer system of comprehensive education?

My noble Friend the Minister of State will be making an announcement in the not too distant future on the very point that my hon. Friend has mentioned. It is precisely in order to introduce greater equality that all the discussions, pronouncements and activity in recent years in regard to education have occurred.

Without dragging the 11-plus red herring across the trail, is it not the case that there is enough strife in Northern Ireland without dismaying the religious bodies, to whom the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) referred in his question, and the thousands of Ulster people who value their existing good schools?

Will the Government proceed very cautiously with any proposal based on the Cowan Report? On the assumption that it is Government policy to have eventual devolution, would not education in any case be a matter for a Northern Ireland legislature rather than for this House?

We always proceed with caution in all matters in Northern Ireland, but with regard to social affairs, whatever the political and security difficulties may be in Northern Ireland, we as an Administration feel, as I am sure the hon. Member would feel, that we should do all we can to improve equality of opportunity at every turn.

Security

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations have been made to him about the need for fresh measures to combat terrorism in Northern Ireland.

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation.

My right hon. Friend fully shares the concern felt by many people about the continuation of violence in Northern Ireland notwithstanding the improvement in the security situation which has taken place. Security measures are constantly under review to adjust them to a changing situation and to increase their effectiveness. He is certain, however, that the best strategy is to work through the police, with the support of the Army, to maintain the rule of law. This strategy is achieving real results.

In the first four months of this year the level of violence, measured by the numbers of incidents and numbers of casualties, has been running at half the rate of last year. It is all the more regrettable that the UUAC, in seeking to compel a stoppage of work, ostensibly in part for the purpose of seeking improvement in security measures, should divert the security forces from their prime task of defeating the IRA. Indeed, the UUAC, or men claiming to act in support of it, is itself resorting to terrorism, intimidation and murder. Such action must not be allowed to succeed.

Will the Minister of State look again at the suggestion which has been put to him from the Conservative side that there should be a new offence of terrorism applying in Northern Ireland? Secondly, in view of the con spicuous success of the SAS Regiment, deriving from its particular anti-terrorist training, does he not think that there is a case for increasing the strength of the SAS and increasing the anti-terrorist training of certain units in the Army?

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's suggestions concerning the SAS and the security front, these things are being carried out, but they involve some extensive training for a lot of people within the Army. The hon. Gentleman is basically agreeing with me that it is possibly not numbers that count but the expertise of the people who are there to do the job.

The laws dealing with terrorist offences are fully comprehensive at the moment but are always being reviewed. We do not think that an offence of terrorism, in regard to which the prosecution would have to show political intent, would be useful or appropriate at the present time.

Does the Minister recall that, on the last occasion when we had Questions concerning Northern Ireland and I asked his hon. Friend about the change in emphasis of the crimes within Ulster, his hon. Friend agreed with me? Does he further recall that it was then indicated that the Secretary of State would tell us of the new plans that the Government would have for dealing with a change in emphasis in the violence in Ulster?

Quite apart from the events of the past week—in regard to which I join in the congratulations to the Government—is not the Minister aware that many of us feel that the Government's view as to the way to handle changed security situations in Ulster is now in a rut and needs fundamental rethinking?

I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about a complete rethink of security policy in Northern Ireland. It is constantly under review and progress is taking place. There are no short cuts and there is no panacea to the problem in Northern Ireland. Our policies are continually under review to meet the continuing situation, and they are having the desired effect of eating into the terrorists.

Many people on all sides of the House will share our admiration for my hon. Friend's remarks at the outset about the role of the security forces in Northern Ireland. Will he go back to Northern Ireland and tell the leaders of the strike who have fomented the events of the last few days that it is no good telling the Government that they must tighten security and take murder by the throat when some of the leaders of the strike appear to be shaking murder by the hand in the intimidation they have been practising?

Hansard is read very closely in Northern Ireland, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's remarks will hit home.

What specific proposals about security have been put to the Minister by the leaders of the action council? Which of these proposals are already in operation and which has the hon. Gentleman rejected?

Security is continually under review. If we are to keep one step ahead with it, there will be times when it will be best to say as little as possible about the Government's intentions.

Did the Minister of State say just now that there would be more specialist training in anti-terrorist work for the Army? If that is so, we welcome it very much. We on this side have been making representations for a long time for a special force based on the SAS to form an anti-terrorist brigade. Will the Minister consider that in connection with a possible future conference on this matter with the Opposition?

There is and will be an increase in SAS-type activities. SAS-type activities are now taking place throughout the Province and as the GOC wishes. The forces in Northern Ireland are undergoing more training to build up their expertise. Expertise is now as important as the numbers of troops involved.

It gives us a great deal of contentment to know that security training is being carried out. Does my hon. Friend realise, however, that the level of security is not directly proportionate to the number of troops engaged? For him constantly to be asked to increase the number of troops will not lead to a solution to the problem. Is he aware that in Northern Ireland we face a political problem and that, important as security is, the politics of the situation must be considered in the search for an ultimate solution?

The politics of the situation are taken into account, but security is the number one priority in Northern Ireland. It is in that direction that people look for improvement. The politics of the situation come second, as has been shown lately to a great extent

Development Control (Rural Areas)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action he proposes to take concerning complaints about rural planning in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

I hope to make a statement within the next few weeks about a form of further review of development control policy in rural areas. Such a review would afford an opportunity for the whole matter to be reconsidered and for general complaints about refusal of planning permission to be assessed and taken into account.

Will the Minister accept that, in spite of the temporary inconvenience suffered by the people of Northern Ireland over the last few days, it is mundane matters such as this which concern them? Will he bear in mind that, whatever his policy, we are concerned that the countryside of Northern Ireland should not be depopulated and that people should receive adequate consideration in their planning applications?

I agree that this is an area of controversy and it is precisely because it is an area of controversy—some of which I believe to be unfounded—that I shall be making an announcement within the next few weeks.

Licensing Act (Amendment)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he intends to introduce the proposed order amending the Licensing Act (Northern Ireland) 1971.

I am considering several matters in connection with the amendment of the Licensing Act (Northern Ireland) 1971. There are serious problems facing hotels which, as a result of losing their accommodation facilities through terrorist action, are unable under existing law to renew their licences, and there have been representations about the licensing of sports and leisure centres. My right hon. Friend and I hope to be in a position to publish proposals for amending legislation towards the middle of this year.

Is the Minister aware that his promised action will be welcomed by undertakings which are anxious to reinstate themselves and to continue making a contributon to the tourist industry? On the question of licences for community and recreation centres, will he bear in mind that, since these centres are used mainly by young persons, in framing the order he should take account of the need to safeguard their interests?

I am aware of the interest and concern being expressed over a misunderstanding that there would be a much wider amendment of the licensing law. We are aware of the concern which exists about alcoholism, particularly among the young. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall take that into account.

Will my hon. Friend indicate whether it is the Government's policy to continue to grant licences to UDA, Provisional Sinn Fein and all sorts of other clubs which are run by illegal organisations and which attract a lot of young people in Northern Ireland, thus involving them in para-military activity. Is it the Government's intention to get rid of these illegal drinking dens and to restore licences to bona fide business people?

We shall make every effort to deal with the illegal activities of these organisations, particularly on the question of licensing and the non-observance of the licensing law. The existing law needs to be reviewed, however, since several inadequacies in it have emerged. We will not agree, even under a revision of the law, to licensing anything that is illegal.

Housing

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will outline the measures he is considering to increase the housing options in Northern Ireland.

Priority must continue to be given in the allocation of resources to those in greatest housing need. I believe, however, that more should be done to encourage owner-occupation and to develop alternative forms of tenure to bridge the gap between owner-occupation and renting. There are a number of possibilities.

There might, for instance, be an option mortgage scheme in Northern Ireland like that in Great Britain. There could be greater scope for co-operatives, co-ownership and equity-sharing. I am reviewing the categories of public sector dwellings which might be sold to tenants. I also believe that owner-occupation would have a role to play in the new drive to tackle the problems of Belfast.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Northern Ireland is suffering from one of the most appalling housing problems in Western Europe? Does he agree that a young married couple have no chance of getting council accommodation because of the rehabilitation redevelopment schemes that are taking place? Can he announce any measures to alleviate the distress of these young people, and what help can be given to enable them to purchase their own accommodation?

I hope that what I have already said indicates that we share my hon. Friend's concern about young married couples and low-wage earners who want to purchase their own homes. In Belfast we shall be doing all we can within the rehabilitation redevelopment programme, for example, to encourage a diversity of the housing stock, and we shall do what we can to encourage more home owner-occupation, greater competition in the private sector and so on.

Will the Minister take steps to ensure that in the allocation of houses proper preference is given to local people, particularly to young married couples who see new homes being erected in my constituency and then see them snatched away by outsiders who have no connection with the area? That creates a real hardship for them.

I do not agree that this is a question of hardship, because most people on the housing waiting list ultimately get accommodation. I am aware of the criticisms of the points scheme. and it is currently being reviewed. Hopefully, the problem referred to by the hon. Gentleman can be dealt with within that review.

What about Question No. 15? On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am here.

The hon. Member's Question has been answered, and I called him for a supplementary question.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some of us are waiting to hear the Minister's answer to Question No. 15.

That question was answered with Question No. 3. I called the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) for a supplementary question because his Question was answered.

Civil Expenditure

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the current rate of annual civil expenditure by the Exchequer in Northern Ireland.

In the financial year 1976–77, the grant under Section 16 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 was £360 million. In addition, expenditure by the Northern Ireland Office, chiefly on law and order, was £170 million. Grants and subsidies from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to Northern Ireland farmers were £32 million. This gives a total of £562 million.

Expenditure from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund during the same period was £1,207 million. This was partly financed by the grant of £360 million. The total civil expenditure by both United Kingdom Departments and Northern Ireland Departments was therefore £1,409 million. This figure does not include expenditure out of the Northern Ireland National Insurance Fund.

What have we got to show for all this vast expenditure? Have we had any thanks from anybody for it?

I would have thought that the events of recent days answered that question.

Is the Minister aware of the current annual rate of civil expenditure by the Exchequer in the borough of Lambeth? In many parts of the United Kingdom similarly large sums would be quoted if they were registered separately and available for inspection.

Police (Firearms)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the amount of training in the use of the firearms issued to the Royal Ulster Constabulary; and if the weapons at present issued are of a satisfactory quality and standard.

All training is entirely a matter for the Chief Constable. However, I am informed that the Chief Constable is satisfied with the weapons training given to members of the RUC. As the hon. Gentleman will recall from my replies to similar Questions on 2nd May 1977, I take the view that it would not be in the interests of security to provide information about weapons used by the RUC.

In these circumstances, can the Minister deny reports which are circulating in Northern Ireland to the effect that the small number of M1 carbines supplied are defective and that difficulties have arisen over the supply of the remainder of the order? It is claimed that the only ammunition available is the stocks that are captured from terrorists.

I do not wish to make any comments in relation to these matters. All weapons must be checked. In cases where one or two have been found to be slightly defective, they have been replaced.

Does the Minister agree that the RUC Special Patrol does a specialised job in Northern Ireland? Would he not agree that this force should be increased from 300 men to 1,000? Is he aware that the RUC is sick and tired of listening to Government Front Bench spokesmen and the news media saying that the police are getting better weapons and more vehicles? If they were, this might save more policemen's lives. We would like to know from the Minister when these weapons and vehicles will be delivered.

All these matters are the prerogative of the Chief Constable and the Police Authority. If there are any requests for specialist equipment, these will be considered and receive support. I have no information which indicates that the hon. Member's complaints are correct.

The whole House welcomed very much the tribute paid to the RUC by the SDLP Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). May I ask the Minister whether there is a full supply of light intensifiers and special sights that the RUC may require for their firearms?

I repeat that this is a matter for the Chief Constable. If the Chief Constable wants any further equipment, the request will be made through the Police Authority. No opposition would be put to those supplies being made available. These are sets of circumstances which need very special care. As far as the RUC is concerned, I repeat what my right hon. and hon. Friends have said on this matter. In the last few days the RUC's behaviour has been a shining example to all in the Province.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

19.

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12th May 1977.

25.

asked the Prime Minister what are his official engagements for 12th May.

26.

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 12th May.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the Writers' Guild of Great Britain. This evening I shall be holding a reception at No. 10 Downing Street in honour of delegates to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Parliamentary Seminar.

Will the Prime Minister find an opportunity to state why he finds it necessary to replace our existing excellent Ambassador in the United States? Does this mean a return to his predecessor's system of domestic patronage?

No. It is in accord with appointments made on many occasions since the war. I have looked up the records and I see that since 1948 there have been eight ambassadors to the United States, of whom four have been non-political appointments and four non-career appointments. This appointment is in accordance with that.

As the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference is now less than one month away, can the Prime Minister say who he expects to attend and who he expects not to attend?

I regret to say that I do not have a list yet from the Commonwealth Secretary-General as to who will be here or who has accepted his invitation. I am watching the situation very carefully.

On the question of the new Ambassador to Washington, will the Prime Minister agree that this appointment recognises brains and ability rather than orthodoxy and docility? Had the appointment been that of a diplomat, there would have been no complaints from either side of the House. Does my right hon. Friend recall that, had President Kennedy succumbed to charges and paid any attention to jibes about relatives and daughters, the American people would never have enjoyed the services of Robert Kennedy?

I have read the newspapers and heard the criticisms that have been made. I considered this proposal when it was put in front of me, and the easiest course would have been to say "No". [HON. MEMBERS: "Why didn't you?"] That is a matter of judgment, and it could be said that my judgment is wrong. It would have been easy to say "No". I considered the matter, but in view of Mr. Jay's qualities and high calibre—of which I have seen no criticism at all—I believe that this is an imaginative appointment. The only question is whether I was right in my judgment and whether, because he is my son-in-law, I should have refused the appointment. Frankly, I thought that if that was the only ground for my saying "No", I had no right to do so. My judgment may have been at fault, but that is the basis on which I approved the appointment.

There are many of us on this side of the House who welcome this evidence of the Prime Minister's determination to strengthen and develop the personal relationship with President Carter. However, is the Prime Minister satisfied that the exceptional talents of Sir Peter Ramsbotham will find a full outlet as Governor of Bermuda?

Sir Peter has served with distinction and I have no criticism to make of him. Indeed, when I became Foreign Secretary he was on the point of taking up his post and as incoming Foreign Secretary I confirmed him in that post. However, with a different Administration and a lapse of three years, it is open to the Foreign Secretary to take a different view of the nature of the task. On that basis he came to me with the proposition. Although the appointment is the Foreign Secretary's, I do not wish to shug off responsibility at all. I am sure that I could have said "No", but on the basis of the argument that the Foreign Secretary put to me I said "Yes".

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us recognise the considerable abilities of the new Ambassador to Washington, but if he runs across the Home Secretary will he consult him to see whether this appointment falls within the purview of a marriage of convenience?

I am happy to say on these domestic affairs that my daughter has been happily married for 16 years and has produced three grandchildren for me. Somehow, I do not think that when Mr. Jay proposed to her he had in mind the possibility either that I would become Prime Minister or that he might be appointed Ambassador to the United States.

Lord President Of The Council (Speech)

20.

asked the Prime Minister if the speech of the Lord President of the Council at Kirkby on constitutional reform on 25th April represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

21.

asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech of the Lord President of the Council at Kirkby-in-Ashfield on 25th April 1977 on constitutional reform represents the Government's policy.

28.

asked the Prime Minister if the Lord President of the Council's statement that the result of the Ashfield by-election will help Great Britain on the way to a Socialist republic represents the policy of the Government.

I refer the hon. Members to the replies given by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council to the hon. Members for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) and Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) on 28th April.

Is the Prime Minister aware that in the course of that reply the Lord President did not deny the remarks about progressing towards a Socialist republic? Since I cannot believe that the Prime Minister is heading in the same direction, will he take this opportunity to say so unequivocally? Then, perhaps, the rest of the Government, including the Lord President, will fall in line and the principle of collective responsibility, on which the Prime Minister is so keen when it applies to the Opposition, can be reasserted.

My right hon. Friend has made it clear that his remarks were wrenched from their context [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am sure that is true. As for my own position and that of the Government, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the speech I made on 3rd May, when I moved the motion that a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty. He will find epitomised in that speech my sentiments on the Throne, the constitution and the Crown.

Is the Prime Minister saying that the quoted report in the Nottingham Evening Post is wrong? If not, will he say why he has told my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that she must be responsible for everything said by Conservative candidates, whereas he is not prepared to repudiate anything said by his Cabinet colleagues?

So far as I know, what was said by the Conservative candidate who is now the Member was not wrenched out of context. It was a printed document—

whereas I understand that the other matter was a spontaneous reply to a good deal of heckling at the end of a by-election meeting. That was on an entirely different basis. I ask Conservative Members to search their minds and say whether, following heckling at a meeting, they have not thrown back a remark addressed to them. I am sure that each one of them has done so on some occasions.

Does the Prime Minister recognise that we can all make a mistake in what we say, but will he answer this simple question: did the Lord President use the term "a Socialist republic" or did he not? Did he mean it? If he did, will the Prime Minister repudiate him?

The hon. Gentleman himself has just used the term "Socialist republic". I do not have to repudiate it. It depends on the context in which such a phrase is used and the person to whom it is addressed. There is no written text, and we have to rely on my right hon. Friend's memory. [HONMEMBERS: "Oh."] Opposition Members cannot rely on anything else, because I understand that this piece was written up by a reporter who was 200 miles away at the time it was said. I do not mind the Opposition having a bit of fun about this, but I do not think anybody takes it very seriously.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in his views on a Socialist republic the Lord President is advocating views on a change in the constitution which are much more commendable than certain other changes in the constitution recently offered by the Government? In the deliberations about the constitution which are being undertaken by the Government, will the Prime Minister give consideration to constitutional changes that would enable the House to examine the holders of particularly important and sensitive appointments before they take up those appointments, as is done in other parliamentary systems, so that we may avoid the enormous and stupendous political insensitivity in the appointment of a person who, whatever his individual talents, is inappropriate for the job?

There has always been a streak of republicanism in this country, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) wishes to say that he is a republican he is entitled to do so. But that is not the attitude of Her Majesty's Government, and my hon. Friend is not yet a member of that Government. [Interruption.] One does not have to belong to Moscow to be a republican. Republicanism has always been a theme which, frankly, I know the overwhelming majority of the country feels is not appropriate to our constitutional arrangements. That is a matter for my hon. Friend to work out.

As for the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I have nothing to add to what I have said.

As the Prime Minister has made some inquiries into this matter, and for the sake of greater accuracy, will he tell the House the context in which the Lord President used the phrase?

I cannot pretend that my researches into this matter have been as detailed as they are into some possible questions. [HONMEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because the matter is not serious enough; that is why. I did, however, see the Daily Express, of which I always take great note, and the Daily Mail. From then on I drew my own conclusions and had a word with my right hon. Friend.

What was reported in in the Daily Mail was serious and purported to be verbatim. If that is an accurate report of the context, there is only one reply that the Prime Minister can give namely, that what the Lord President is reported to have said in no way represents Government policy.

Obviously I have not pursued my research far enough, because my right hon. Friend tells me that the Daily Mail reporter who wrote the story was not present. I hope that the right hon. Lady is not relying on that evidence. I think that our attitude is pretty clear on this matter, and I do not think I have anything to add.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to ask leave to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) accused—

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Question No. 21 to the Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) referred to my local newspaper, the Nottingham Evening Post. Is the Prime Minister aware that it is the only newspaper—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is very experienced in the ways of the House. He knows whether he has a point of order to put to me or whether he is trying to score points. Has he a point of order?

I hope that I have, Mr. Speaker. It is the generally accepted custom of the House that if matters concerning an hon. Member's constituency are referred to, that hon. Member is given the opportunity to comment on them—[Interruption.] In one sentence, Mr. Speaker, may I put, through you, to the Prime Minister—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Nottingham Evening Post is, if not the only newspaper, certainly the first in this century that has ever caused a strike of every union of its employees because it sacked over 100 of all their members.

Nationalised Industries

24.

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the nationalised industry chairmen.

22.

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the nationalised industry heads.

23.

asked the Prime Minister how often he meets the chairmen of the nationalised industries.

I refer my hon. Friends to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council gave on my behalf to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) on 10th March.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, will he discuss with him the fact that both he and the Secretary of State for Energy have now clearly decided what "good girls" they are and in the matter of Drax B have agreed on the price? In those circumstances, will he assure the House that the order for Drax B, on which thousands of jobs in my constituency and in Scotland depend, will be brought forward with the minimum of delay?

I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that the order for the Drax B power station will be made with the minimum of delay. I do not wish to quantify that, but discussions are proceeding urgently—indeed, at almost daily intervals. We are well aware of the circumstances and my hon. Friend has represented his case fully. We shall have to see how we can bring this to a conclusion. There are certain conclusions that the Government would like to achieve that would improve the health of the industry, but, whatever the result of those conclusions, Drax B will have to be ordered.

Questions To The Prime Minister

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a brief statement about the Fifth Report of the Sessional Committee on Procedure, on Questions to the Prime Minister. I should like to thank the Committee for its speedy and constructive report.

The report makes four recommendations. I have proposed to the Committee that, for an experimental period, I should retain for answer by myself more Oral Questions on important matters, even if they fall within the responsibilities of another Minister. That proposal—the full details of which are spelled out in the first annex to the report—is made as the first recommendation by the Committee. I accept it and will apply it immediately and until the end of the Session, when I will review the matter in the light of experience.

The second recommendation of the Committee is directed at the House itself: it recommends that Members should table fewer Questions of an "indirect" kind—think of what I might have been spared this afternoon—such as official visit and engagement Questions, and more Questions of the kind that I have indicated that I am prepared to retain.

The third recommendation of the Committee is directed to the practice on grouping Questions: it suggests that indirect Questions should not be grouped for answer with identical Questions on the Paper for that day. The purpose of this recommendation is to break up blocks of syndicated Questions. I accept that recommendation and will apply it henceforth; I will review it, along with the first recommendation, at the end of the Session.

The fourth recommendation, Mr. Speaker, relates to your practice.

I hope that adoption of these recommendations will assist the House and improve Question Time.

As the Prime Minister has observed, the fourth recommendation of the Select Committee relates to my own practice. I am prepared to act in accordance with that recommendation and I hope that I shall have the support of the whole House in doing so. This relates to relevance.

I should like to say how grateful I am to the Prime Minister for making a statement so quickly, but must press him further about guidelines on the Questions that he will retain and those that he will transfer. The Prime Minister has said that the matter is fully dealt with in the first annex of the report. With the greatest respect, it is scarcely dealt with at all. The guidance given is that the Prime Minister will be prepared to retain Questions dealing with meetings of Heads of Government—on which statements are made by him in any event—and those dealing with foreign affairs and defence. If that is so, the new practice will be a great protection to the Prime Minister rather than a chance for the House to cross-examine him on social, economic and home affairs. Will the Prime Minister please see that better guidelines are given and that they are put in the possession of the Table Office or the Library so that hon. Members can be properly informed about the Questions that are likely to be retained by the Prime Minister?

I have thought about this a lot and I cannot adopt the last part of the right hon. Lady's proposal for the good reason that the House holds individual Ministers responsible for matters here. That is the constitution and, therefore, I must proceed with some delicacy in this matter. When I am willing to accept Questions, I shall certainly want to discuss them with the individual Ministers responsible, because one cannot remove their responsibility. It was for that reason that I selected the category that I selected—namely, conversations with Heads of Government and so on. After all, I proposed this to the Select Committee, and it is my intention to use its recommendations in the spirit intended. It is not in my interest to avoid answering Questions, but a certain discretion must be left to me about what I transfer or retain. I do not intend to concentrate wholly on overseas matters.

Will the changes make it possible for Back Benchers to ask the Prime Minister such Questions as "Will the Prime Minister try to be at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting this evening?" or direct Questions asking for a personal opinion, such as "What is the Prime Minister's fair estimate of the value of the pound?" without those Questions being diverted to other Ministers?

My hon. Friend has illustrated the difficulty that I shall be in, and I ask for the forbearance of the House in trying to select certain Questions. It would be the simplest thing in the world to transfer all Questions, and that is what I am seeking not to do. If I were answering my hon. Friend's first Question I should have begun by saying that there was no ministerial responsibility for that matter. However, the answer is—"Yes, I shall be there"

Is it not clear from what the Prime Minister has said that the new arrangements will actually make it easier for him to avoid difficult Questions? Did he not reveal that himself in one of his earlier remarks, when he said that the new arrangements would spare him the sort of embarrassment that he suffered this afternoon? Can we have an assurance that Questions to the Prime Minister will not be determined by what the Prime Minister is prepared to answer and that we shall still be free to put down wide-ranging Questions?

Hon. Members are always free to put wide-ranging Questions down and Ministers are always free not to answer them. That has long been the practice of the House, and it will continue. This is an experiment, and if the House does not like it, at the end of the summer—and this experiment will be going on for three months—we can have another talk. However, we must see how it goes. There was a widespread feeling that Questions were becoming totally unrelated to what was on the Order Paper. If hon. Members believe that I am not trying to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee, they might consider why I put those recommendations to the Committee in the first place.

I agree that the nonsense exists, but the whole business is about supplementary questions rather than the Questions on the Order Paper. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that he will continue the age-old practice of answering whatever questions are put to him, irrespective of what is on the Order Paper? Would it not be much better to have an equitable system in deciding who should be called? For that purpose all that is necessary is for us to have a series of Questions on the Order Paper and for you, Mr. Speaker, to hold a kind of bingo session.

Some of those Questions go beyond my responsibilities and entrench on those of you, Mr. Speaker. Therefore, I should not care to answer them.

I have always said that the best exchanges in the House take place when there is a definite subject on the Order Paper to which I can refer and speak about matters arising out of it. For example, I thought that we had a useful exchange on Monday when I reported on the meeting with Heads of Government. All the questions were designed to obtain information or to challenge my view, and they were all relevant to the subject. However, let us experiment. I am in the hands of the House to some extent because I made this proposal to help the House, and if the House does not like it, we can go back to the old system in due course.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on what he assures us is an offer to increase his range of responsibilities to encompass the kind of Question that one does not now put down because one fears that it might not get to the Prime Minister. That is why we ask him to visit Lossiemouth, knowing that he has no intention of doing so. May I press for further examples to be included within the guidelines, such as another type of Question that he might consider—one affecting the survival of a vital industry?

I should prefer to see the Questions on the Order Paper. We are trying to improve the system, but I do not want—and it would not be right—to take responsibility completely out of the hands of, for example, the Secretary of State for Industry. This will be a difficult experiment, but I hope that we shall find a modus vivendi for it. I hope that on an issue such as Drax B—which I certainly regard as my responsibility—I should answer such a Question, after consulting the Secretary of State for Industry. However, we had better see how we get on. I shall try—and no doubt I shall make mistakes—to meet the convenience of the House in answering more substantive Questions.

Order. I shall call one more hon. Member from each side, because we have business questions next.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important aspects of Prime Minister's Question Time is that Back Benchers can ask questions of immediate importance that may have arisen that day or the day before? Under his new and welcome system, would it not be possible to allow Questions to be put down seven days before they are to be answered rather than 14 days, which is an impossible time lag for topicality?

I do not have a view on that, but I had not understood that it was the purpose of Question Time to deal with matters that had arisen on the previous day, unless they were of sufficient importance to warrant a Private Notice Question. The purpose of Question Time is to enable a regular series and order of Questions to be put down so that hon. Members can have the opportunity to consider them and have fair play in getting answers. The topicality notion destroys that system.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise the difficulty in which he will place hon. Members in putting Questions on the Order Paper if he does not give us better guidelines? Are we to put down every Question on policy to the right hon. Gentleman and hope that he accepts them? If so, the Order Paper will be an awful mess.

If every Question is put down to me, the experiment will clearly break down and we shall go back to the old system. There must be some give-and-take on both sides. Unless I get a bit of help, we shall not be able to carry on with the experiment and I shall have to say, with regret, that we shall have to go back to the old system. Some hon. Members may like that, but others will not.

Business Of The House

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 16TH MAY—Until 7 o'clock, consideration of Private Members' motions. Afterwards, Second Reading of the Post Office Bill.

Motions relating to Police (Discipline) and (Complaints) Amendment Regulations.

TUESDAY 17TH MAY—Second Reading of the Local Authorities (Restoration of Works Powers) Bill and of the Control of Office Development Bill.

Motion on R/77 EEC Documents Nos. 75, 477–479 on energy policy.

WEDNESDAY 18TH MAY—Supply [18th Allotted Day]: a debate on the Belgrade meeting on the Helsinki Final Act.

Motion on R/76 EEC Documents Nos. 90 and 540 on sulphur in fuel oil.

THURSDAY 19TH MAY—Supply [19thAllotted Day]: a debate on the Royal Navy.

Remaining stages of the Rent (Agriculture) Amendment Bill.

FRIDAY 20TH MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 23RD MAY—Debate on the Report of the Annan Committee on The Future of Broadcasting, Command No. 6753.

If next week's business is completed as announced and if nothing unexpected arises, it will be proposed that the Adjournment for the Spring Holiday should be from Friday 27th May to Monday 13th June.

May I put two questions to the Leader of the House? First, the day on which it is proposed that we should rise is allocated to Private Members' motions, which will mean that we shall not have the customary day for Adjournment debates. Would it be possible to put down Private Members' motions on a day after we return so that we may have the customary day for Adjournment debates?

Secondly, will the direct elections Bill be published next week?

On the right hon. Lady's first point, a resolution of the House at the beginning of the Session allocated Friday 27th May for consideration of Private Members' motions and a further resolution would be required to change that. I think that we should stand by the existing arrangements, but if it is desired to have discussions through the usual channels for the restoration of Private Members' time thereby lost, we shall be prepared to consider that.

On the second matter, I am sorry that I cannot gratify the right hon. Lady's wish to have the Bill next week.

Is it not right that the House should have the opportunity to reach a decision on a fundamental issue of conscience that is not a party issue? Therefore, whatever the right hon. Gentleman's own views, will he consider looking again at the need for Government time in Committee and on the Floor of the House for the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, because the original Act was passed on the basis of Government time?

There are several considerations that I should put to the hon. Gentleman and the House that I have also put to the many deputations that have come from various parts of the House to make representations on this Bill. We are standing by the normal procedures of the House and it would he wrong to change them.

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 332 on Government nepotism that I tabled last night? Does he recognise that, despite what the Prime Minister said a few minutes ago, there is widespread disquiet on this side of the House and, no doubt, among our supporters in the country and that this matter must be urgently debated on the Floor of the House or within the Parliamentary Labour Party?

[ That this House deplores the growing use of patronage by Government Ministers; condemns the appointment by the Prime Minister of his son-in-law as Her Majesty's Ambassador in Washington; and calls upon the entire Labour Movement to censure the Prime Minister for this indefensible action.]

Whether a matter crops up elsewhere is not immediately a question for me. I understand that there is interest in this subject, though the Prime Minister replied to questions about it earlier. I have read my hon. Friend's motion and I see that he has his customary massive support for it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is some weeks since the Secretary of State for the Environment promised us the White Paper on inner city problems? Does the right hon. Gentleman expect it to be published next week?

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman any assurance about next week. I shall try to indicate when it will be published, and if I find that it is being brought forward earlier, I shall inform the right hon. Gentleman.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, notwithstanding his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), there is massive worry and consternation throughout the Parliamentary Labour Party, even if this is not in evidence on my hon. Friend's Early-Day Motion, which, I understand, was not taken round for hon. Members to sign? Will my right hon. Friend arrange an urgent debate to consider the real problem in this matter—namely, patronage—so that we can get some, if not all, of it removed and subject such appointments to scrutiny by Back Bench Members in order that we may approve or endorse such appointments? Until we do that, we shall not be making any progress on behalf of our movement.

That is a very much wider question and does not arise necessarily from the particular appointment to which the Early-Day Motion refers. As for discussion of the wider question, no doubt it will be raised in the PLP as was suggested earlier, and it is a perfectly proper subject for hon. Members to select on the various occasions when private Members can choose the business to be discussed in the House.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the information that I have just received from a telephone call, that the Government intend to put down a Money Resolution tomorrow on the Homeless Persons Bill, is correct? Why should an outside source know before hon. Members of this House what is on their agenda tomorrow? Is it correct that a matter of this kind should be brought on at the last moment, because hon. Members who may wish to be here and speak on an important matter of this kind will not have the opportunity to do so?

I do not know the details of the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I have had no outside telephone call about the matter, but I shall make inquiries and communicate with the hon. Gentleman this afternoon.

Has my right hon. Friend given any consideration to arranging a debate on the important statements which the Secretary of State for the Environment has made in recent weeks on the new towns and inner city areas? Both these issues are in many ways connected, and many of us regard it as vital that the House should have an opportunity of discussing them in full.

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that this is one of the questions on which time should be made available. I cannot promise that it will happen in the next week or so but I shall keep in mind the representations of my hon. Friend as well as those of others.

Has the Lord President seen Early-Day Motion No. 325, in my name and the names of several other hon. Members, praying for the Statutory Instrument on the fishing industry to be annulled?

[That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Haddock (Restrictions on Landing) Order 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 781), dated 2nd May 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th May, be annulled.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this has caused considerable concern in the fishing industry since the regulation was brought into effect on Monday? Will he promise time for an early debate?

Approaches have been made about the possibility of finding means for a debate. This motion appeared on the Order Paper on the 10th of the month and praying time expires on the 30th. We shall look at the possibility to see whether there is a chance of a debate.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a serious situation has arisen today as a result of the decision of the Law Lords about the battered wives' house in Hounslow? The Law Lords have now decided that it is overcrowded and as a consequence hundreds of housewives with their children will be thrown on to the streets unless we take action quickly and immediately. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the House to debate this very important matter next week, and will he discuss it with the Secretary of State for Social Services and the Minister for Housing and Construction?

I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. and hon. Friends, as my hon. Friend has urged that I should do. But what action should be taken following a decision in another place, if a decision has been taken, is another question. I cannot make any promise about that.

Will the Lord President find time next week for a debate on a subject in which he takes the keenest interest; namely, whether this country shall become a Socialist republic?

That matter has been successfully disposed of on a number of occasions. I recommend to the hon. Gentleman that he studies the report of the newspaper correspondent who was there—The Times corespondent. So sensational were my utterances that he reported not a single word the next morning.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the report of the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries concerning the role of British Railways in public transport was reported this morning and that there were no fewer than 68 Press correspondents in attendance? In view of this tremendous public interest, will he make sure that within the next week or so we have a chance of debating the report in full?

I understand the importance of the subject, but I cannot promise a debate in the next week or two. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that this is obviously a strong candidate for a debate.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that five months have elapsed since Sir Robert Megarry, the Vice-Chancellor, drew the attention of the Attorney-General to the wrongs done by the Government to the Banaban people? We have long been awaiting a statement. Will he assure us that such a statement will be made before the House rises for the recess?

I know of the interest of the hon. Gentleman and others in this subject. I cannot promise a further statement before the recess but I shall see what the possibilities are.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether next week's debate on energy policy will cover President Carter's recent statements on nuclear development and their implications for British nuclear policy?

The debate next week is considerably narrower than that because it covers EEC documents. However, I am sure that some comments on this wider question would be in order. I also agree, as I have indicated to the House before, that there ought to be a wider debate on energy at a fairly early date soon after the recess.

May I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi)? Of course I understand that the right hon. Gentleman cannot be expected to know everything. Having once had his job I would be the last person to suggest that he could. But since he does not know, and since it is an urgent matter, will he undertake that if this Money Resolution on the Homeless Persons Bill is to be put down, he will adjourn the debate tomorrow so that the opportunity can be given to debate it properly at a later stage?

I gather that the motion has already been put down. I promised that I would look into this matter and see what action should be taken. That is the proper way for me to proceed. I shall also see whether there have been any discussions among the parties. I do not know whether there have been such discussions. However, I promised that I would look into the matter and that is what I shall do.

May I press the right hon. Gentleman a little further? I understand that there have not been any discussions. Surely it is reasonable to ask the right hon. Gentleman, as there is a widespread demand in the House that this should be debated at a proper time and not on a Friday, that such an opportunity should be given. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman needs much knowledge of the subject to admit that this is a reasonable proposition and one to which he should accede.

The matter has only just been brought to my attention by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi). I have promised that I shall look at this, and I shall also take into account the representations that the right hon. Gentleman has put to me.

With regard to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), will my right hon. Friend recognise that 2,250,000 people have been left in some uncertainty and ambiguity arising from his right hon. Friend's statement and that it would be a great service to those people if an early debate were arranged?

I fully appreciate that this is a strong candidate for a debate. I hope that we shall be able to arrange it fairly soon, but I cannot promise it before the recess.

Since the subject of the nationalisation of the banks and insurance companies has again reared its head, will the Lord President consider an early debate in view of the obvious discrepancy between the policy of his party and the policy of the Government?

Eager though we are to supply time for debates, we cannot have debates on every subject that rears its head, but I understand what the hon. Gentleman is up to.

Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether there will be a statement next week with regard to the present industrial dispute that is going on? Can he indicate what are the terms and conditions of the work force at present down below in the House under which trade union agreements and so on they are operating and what is the position?

Will he also ask the Opposition whether they will arrange for a debate on both banking and insurance and the Socialist republic? There are many hon. Members on this side who would be only too willing to explain to the Opposition precisely what our views are on these matters.

I am sure that my hon. Friend has indicated to the House generally how he would join in such a debate, and I understand that. It will be necessary to make a statement to the House next week on the first matter that my hon. Friend raised. In the course of making such a statement we shall be referring to some subjects to which my hon. Friend referred in his question today and on previous occasions, which are extremely important matters. I am not underrating them in any sense whatever. What I have to do in the interests of the whole House, and the interests of all the servants of the House, is to try to secure a settlement to this dispute and then see how we can proceed.

In view of the Prime Minister's characteristically evasive and less than honest replies, will the Lord President arrange to make a statement next week on what exactly he did say about wishing for the advent of a Socialist republic in Britain? Will the Lord President include in that statement the truth behind the fact that he sent me a Parliamentary Answer referring me to a newspaper which did not carry any report of the meeting? He would have done much better to refer to the account in the Nottingham Evening Post, which I understand, did have a reporter at the meeting.

I am tempted to reply to the hon. Member's characteristically offensive question in his own manner, but I shall not do so. I shall give him the answer clearly. He put down Questions to me about the speech that I had made in Kirkby and he asked for reports of what I had said. There is no report in existence—no textual report of what I said. What I referred him to was the reporter who was there, the reporter of The Times—and The Times reporter thought that it was so sensational that he got on to his newspaper at once and said nothing about it. If the Opposition cannot think of any better mare's nests than this one to pursue, they are hard up.

Since we gather that our right hon. and admirable Friend the Prime Minister, who is always blunt and honest, unlike some of those chaps on the Benches below the Gangway opposite, is meeting some writers this evening, may we have a statement of the Government's intentions about public lending right, which I think has surfaced again in another place?

In the last Session the Government sought to introduce the Public Lending Right Bill. We were in full support of the Bill. That Bill or a Bill of similar character, although it does not deal with the important money aspects of the matter, has passed through another place. Representations are being made to the Prime Minister by the Writers Guild, a body which has fought consistently to get this measure on to the statute book, and my right hon. Friend will hear those representations. I should have thought that the next best likelihood of the Bill proceeding is in the next Session of Parliament, but all these representations can assist.

Since, perhaps understandably, the right hon. Gentleman is reluctant to come clean on his objective of a Socialist republic, would he at least come clean on the Bill to introduce European direct elections, bearing in mind that the delay already incurred is a total disgrace and a let-down of this House? If he cannot promise the Bill next week, will he guarantee to introduce it before the recess?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the guarantee he seeks. I understand the Government's commitments in this matter and the questions on the matter which have been put to me by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and others, but I have nothing further to add to that now.

When my right hon. Friend is considering the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) that we should have a debate on battered wives, will he take into account the Select Committee's Report on this subject, which was published 18 months ago and has not yet been debated? Will he certainly see that this subject gets much higher priority than any nonsense about direct elections, because these women are suffering and being harassed—first of all by their husbands and now by the law?

This is obviously a question which deserves debate in the House. There are other opportunities, apart from the time that the Government provide, for discussion of these matters. However, I shall take note of my hon. Friend's representations. I certainly appreciate the importance of the subject, particularly in view of the reference made today to the decision elsewhere.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of a very curious and rather un-British proposal, that all citizens who want passports will in due course have to have a European Community passport? Can he assure us that before there is any commitment to this there will have to be an affirmative decision of this House and that it will not be done by the Royal Prerogative, without the consent of this House?

The hon. Gentleman has raised this matter before and of course I appreciate the interest in it. I would want the House to discuss this matter before the Government are finally committed. I think that that is in line with the undertaking that I gave before, and I give it again now.

Order. I am afraid that I shall be able to call only three more hon. Members on each side, because we have other business in front of us.

Will a statement be made of the Government's intentions regarding the sale of their holding in BP, and may we have a debate on the matter before any action is taken?

This matter has been discussed and referred to in the House before. I cannot say that there will be a fresh statement, but I will consult the Chancellor and see what the situation is.

I hope that I did not hear aright a moment ago. Blasphemy in this place is out of order.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Home Secretary will himself be replying to next week's debate on the police? In view of the serious situation in the police service at the moment, does he accept that it would be little short of an insult to the police if the Home Secretary were to go off to Guernsey and not reply to the debate himself?

I could not accept any suggestion about insults to the House or the police in any question of who would reply for the Government. As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been some difficulty about the Home Secretary being able to be here on Monday, but the Government will certainly put the case and we are providing time for a debate at a time that we thought suitable for the House as a whole.

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the statement made by the Prime Minister about Prime Minister's Questions, a matter of great concern to all hon. Members? When the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was Prime Minister, one required a constitutional lawyer when one went into the Table Office to agree a form of words in order to get a Question down. At least the Prime Minister has now indicated his concern. Would it not, therefore, be possible for the Leader of the House to arrange for a debate so that all hon. Members can participate in a discussion of this vital question—our ability to question the Prime Minister of this country?

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is asking for a debate on this report. If so, we shall look at that, although. I cannot promise it now. I should have thought that the best way to proceed is as the Prime Minister indicated—on the basis of the acceptance of the recommendations, in the main, that he has made, and see how that works. If we find after a period that it does not work, we can see what alterations need to be made. However, as my hon. Friend knows and as I have known for a long time, there has never been an entirely satisfactory solution of this problem. Let us see whether we can solve it in practice over the next few months, rather than by having a debate on the theory of the matter.

Bearing in mind that the annual conference of the Scottish National Party will be held at the end of this month, does the right hon. Gentleman intend to have the devolution Bill Mark II out and debated before then, or will it simply be published on the eve of the SNP conference? In any case, as Leader of the House, how does he hope to keep his new proposals going through this Chamber?

I am not saying whether a statement should be made before the Scottish National Party conference or any other conference, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be perfectly capable of conveying to his associates there that the only party, the only kind of Government, who can conceivably carry through a proper system of devolution in the United Kingdom is a Labour Government. I am sure that that information will be rapturously received when the hon. Gentleman makes his speech.

As there are now only four weeks until the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, for two weeks of which we shall be in recess, may we have a firm assurance from my right hon. Friend that there will be either a statement or a debate about the conference before the House goes into recess?

I cannot give a promise that there will be a debate on the matter before the recess, but there are, of course, other opportunities in which the questions can be raised. However, I recognise the importance of having a discussion in the House on the matter in some form. There have been many exchanges at Question Time and on other occasions.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that hon. Members appointed to the Committee to consider the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill will want to know whether the Money Resolution is to be debated tomorrow? May we have an assurance that each individual Member will be told before the House rises tonight whether there is to be a debate or not?

I have promised that I shall look at all the circumstances of the matter to see what is the best way to deal with it. That is what I stand by.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With respect, I hope that you will not take anything that I propose to say in any way as criticism of yourself. It is a request for information.

You may have been aware, Mr. Speaker, that from the very first lion. Member to stand to try to catch your eye to ask a question of the Lord President I was among those on the Labour Benches who were bobbing up and down like yo-yos trying to gain your attention so as to ask a question. The question that I wanted to ask concerned unemployment on Merseyside.

You were able, Mr. Speaker, to call other hon. Members on both sides of the House. Some of them had begun the ritual at the same time as myself, but many of them came in much later. You have often urged, Mr. Speaker, that hon. Members should follow the practice of trying to catch your eye. That is what I was trying to do. I assumed that because I had been able to ask a question of the Prime Minister I was excluded from those who could ask a question of the Lord President, but hon. Members were called who had asked more questions than I was able to ask. I make no criticism I am merely asking for information.

If at some stage I used the name of our God, it was not in blasphemy but merely a request for help from a higher authority. We happen, Mr. Speaker, to be Methodists, but I am rather a rougher one than yourself. My call to God was not a blasphemy it was an appeal to the higher authority. However, it did not get an answer. If it did, it was "No".

I should like an assurance, Mr. Speaker, that you are not trying to stop me and that some rule was being applied.

I am deeply grateful for the way in which the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) has raised this matter. The hon. Gentleman knows that one's prayers are not always answered as one expects.

The House should bear in mind that the worst part of my job as Speaker is when I have to terminate questions and discussions when I know that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber are bursting with indignation because they have not been called. If I allowed discussion to continue until everybody had been answered, matters would get completely out of hand. There must be—there always has been—some discipline in this place. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there was nothing personal in my decision. I shall do my best next time to ensure that his prayers are answered.

Local Authorities (Restoration Of Works Powers) Bill (Procedure)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I raise a point of order that does not, I suggest, require a reply from you today. That is because the substantive matter is not on the Order Paper today, tomorrow, or Monday. On the following grounds I respectfully submit that the Local Authorities (Restoration of Works Powers) Bill is prima facie hybrid and ought to be referred to the Examiners before proceeding to Second Reading on the Floor of the House.

First, the current doctrine on recognising the characteristic of hybridity in a Public-General Bill was set out with clarity and authority in the Statement of Reasons for the Certificate from the Examiners concerning the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill. House of Lords Paper No. 71 of 17th February1977.

Second, on page 11 of that statement appears the following:
"But one must assume that those who framed the Bill shrank from a bare naming of the ship-repairing companies that the Government wanted to take, with or without some such description of them as 'the major ship-repairing companies', because to do so would be to make a naked selection and so hybridise the Bill."
Third, the promoters of the Local Authorities (Restoration of Works Powers) Bill took special care to draw attention to the hybridity of the Bill in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, wherein they declare not that the Bill applies to any recognisable class of district councils but, on the contrary, to
"25 specified district councils in England and Wales."
Fourth, this is a good example of a "naked selection" that the Examiners identify as a sufficient condition of hybridity.

Fifth, in the text of Clause 1, the naked selection made by the Government is described as
"the councils of certain districts, in each of which is included the whole or part of the area of a former county borough or boroughs."
Sixth, unless the class described by the criteria is exhausted, the Bill will be hybrid.

Seventh, Clause 2 of the Bill does not identify any class into which these district councils fall and which is exhausted by them. Instead, it identifies them by reference to portions of three different Statutory Instruments.

Eighth, in no one of these Statutory Instruments as quoted in Clause 2 is any one class of district council either created or exhausted. Article 3 of Statutory Instrument No. 339/75 names 14 district councils but does not name other district councils that fall in the class of
"councils of certain districts, in each of which is included the whole or part of the area of a former county borough or boroughs."
Article 8 of Statutory Instrument No. 944/75 similarly names 10 district councils, but does not name others falling within the same criteria. Article 8 of Statutory Instrument No. 315/76 names one district council, but does not name other district councils fulfilling the same criteria.

My ninth point is that, taken together, the 25 district councils so named do not exhaust the councils falling within the class whose criteria are set out in Clause 1. For example, the district councils of Langbaurgh, Middlesbrough and Stockton-on-Tees meet the criteria set out in Clause 1 and could have been included within the articles of the Statutory Instruments quoted above, but those district councils and many others were not so included.

My tenth point is that a class that escapes the characteristics of hybridity cannot be created merely by agglomerating three arbitrary collections of district councils that do not, either as individual groups or taken together, exhaust any class.

The eleventh consideration is that, in the words of the Examiners that I have already quoted, the promoters of the Bill made a "naked selection" from within a class and by "bare naming" rather than the construction of a class embodied their selection in three different Statutory Instruments.

Lastly, though Statutory Instruments are incapable of being hybrid, the embodiment of such a naked selection in a Bill creates no class on any available precedent, and the Bill is in consequence hybrid.

I have today, Mr. Speaker, deposited in the bag behind your Chair a petition praying that the Bill may be referred to a Select Committee so that petitions for relief against its arbitrary provisions may be considered in the proper way. I respectfully submit that the Bill should be referred to the Examiners, whose unique duty it is to determine whether the Bill is actually hybrid.

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) for the submission that he has advanced. The House will not be surprised when I say that I should like a little time to consider it. I shall give my ruling on Monday, having had an opportunity to consider the issues that have been raised.

Orders Of The Day

Finance Bill

(Clauses Nos. 4, 15 and: new clauses relating to value added tax, subcontractors in the construction industry, benefits from employment (motor cars) and capital gains tax.)

Considered in Committee [ Progress 10th May]

[Sir MYER GALPERN in the Chair]

4.20 p.m.

:As the Government amendments to the Opposition's New Clause I have been selected, it will be in order for the new clause, the Government amendments and New Clause 8 to be discussed together.

I remind the Committee that the amendments themselves cannot formally be moved unless and until the Second Reading of the new clause has been agreed to.

New Clause 1

Value-Added Tax—Threshold Of Registration

(1) Paragraphs 1 and 2 of Schedule 1 to the Finance Act 1972 (liability to be registered) shall be amended as follows.

(2) In paragraph 1, in the provisions before the Table, for "£5,000" (in both places) there shall be substituted "£10,000" and in the second column of the Table for "1,750", "3,000", "4,250" and "5,000" there shall be substituted respectively "3,500", "6,000". "8,500" and "10,000".

(3) In paragraph 2 for "£4,000" (in both places) there shall be substituted "£8,000" and for "£1,250" there shall be substituted "£2,500".

(4) This section shall not come into force until 1st September 1977'.—[Mr. David Howell.]

Brought up, and read the First time

I remind the Committee that with this we are to take New Clause 8—Value-added tax registration threshold