House Of Commons
Thursday 2nd March 1978
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Commission For Racial Equality
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he next expects to meet the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.
Soon. I naturally reckon to meet him regularly.
Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality recent reports about the National Front spreading its racialist propaganda in schools? Does my right hon. Friend agree that local education authorities and teachers should be given every encouragement to stop the National Front poisoning the minds of schoolchildren in this way and that school curricula should place more emphasis on the need to encourage young people to adopt healthier attitudes which will lead to better race relations?
I think that my hon. Friend is right in what he says. We ought to be careful in attributing a sense of importance to some people in the National Front when they pretend that because in a few places they are outside the schools they are influencing the schools in the country as a whole.I think that discussion—it depends on the age of the children—of the problem of racial prejudice is important. Most headmasters, headmistresses and teachers understand how to deal with this matter, but it is difficult for them if it is blown up in the Press beyond its real size.
Will the Home Secretary tell Mr. David Lane that he now hopes to repair the damage done to race relations by his own recent speeches, set out so revealingly today on the centre page of The Times, and that he therefore withdraws his calumnies against my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and disclaims those of his colleagues?
In the last three weeks I have received far more letters on this matter than is usual. Something has happened in the last three weeks to set people writing in a fashion that is not normal. In my view, it was started by ill-conceived and ill-considered discussion on television.
Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that the community leaders of minority ethnic groups in Birmingham, particularly those in Ladywood, would like him to convey to the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality their belief that everything that can be done should be done by the Government and their organisation to promote the interests of the minority ethnic groups in the large cities, particularly where those groups feel that the contribution that they are able to make to community life is somewhat restricted?
I shall certainly convey the thoughts of my hon. Friend to Mr. David Lane, who is quite able to look after himself. The problem of the inner cities, in a wide sense of the term, as it relates to race relations is an important one. I know that in Birmingham, as in other places and in all parties, people are considering this matter and doing what they can in a very difficult situation.
Following what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew), does not the right hon. Gentleman now regret his intemperate and thoroughly unjustifiable remark that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—these were his words—was making racial hatred respectable? Does he not regret that remark now?
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he next expects to meet representatives of the Police Federation.
I have no arrangements at present for a formal meeting with the Police Federation.
When the Home Secretary meets the Police Federation, will he be discussing with it the very worrying trend of experienced police officers leaving the force after four or five years? Does he think that there are any factors involved other than pay, which is belatedly subject to review—for example, morale? Is he proposing any remedies?
Over half of those who leave the police force do so within two years. As we discussed in the debate the other day, this is a worrying aspect of recruiting young men and women. We shall see what Lord Edmund-Davies comes up with. I have given my view on the importance that I attached to this matter.There are factors other than pay—night work and so on—which will not be met by a pay increase. Morale may be one part of it. But, like so many other factors in penal reform and so on, there are no simple answers to those matters. I do not believe that it is within the remit of a Home Secretary or anybody else to say something that will solve a problem which arises in the public service, particularly in those parts of the public service in which people work unusual hours. Young men these days want to be at home with their families. That is perhaps one factor.
When my right hon. Friend has discussions with the Police Federation, will he discuss the problems created for police officers through the holding of marches by organisations such as the National Front? Does he not think that the time has come when he should take the decision about banning a march rather than leaving it to the local police chief?
We have had this discussion before. The law puts this on the grounds of public disorder. Is my hon. and learned Friend suggesting that I should take the decision whether a May Day march should take place on the grounds of something more than the argument put forward by those in the march? I disagree with those who think that that is the way to do things. This must clearly be dealt with on the ground of public disorder. It is not a question of passing the buck, because whoever is made Home Secretary is not suddenly translated into a policeman.
When the right hon. Gentleman meets the Police Federation, will he raise with it the need to strengthen, revitalise and restructure the Special Constabulary? Does he not agree that this fine body of men and women could do with a clear lead from the Home Office to show that we need more voluntary police officers on the beat?
I agree. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that this is something about which the Police Federation feels strongly. It is against any extra people joining the Special Constabulary. It speaks up very strongly against it at meetings I have at the Home Office. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to have a shot at talking to the Police Federation about this. I have.
When my right hon. Friend next meets the Police Federation, will he discuss with it why it has taken so long to set up a monitoring procedure on suspects' rights to inform relatives? Can he confirm whether it was the Police Federation which put a veto on the carrying out of what was an undertaking given to the House, or is it merely that the civil servants have moved slowly on this matter?
It is neither of those suggestions. It has nothing to do with the Police Federation. No doubt this issue will be discussed on a later Question when we can discuss it on a more informal basis.
Can the Home Secretary give us a reassurance that the Edmund-Davies interim report on police pay will be available before Easter?
No, I could not do that. I have told Lord Edmund-Davies "Make the report in your own way. I will not interfere with what you are doing in any way." For me to do so would be a grave mistake. Perhaps I should say what I have said obliquely about this. I would rather that this was a report which stood the test of time, as did the 1961 report, than that it was something quick and slipshod, produced to meet some narrow political need.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has had regarding the need to take an early decision on extensions of local broadcasting stations.
The BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority and their local radio contractors have made clear to me their desire for an early decision that their respective local radio services should be permitted to expand.
As the Home Secretary knows that it needs no extra legislation and would cost no money to extend local broadcasting, in view of public demand may I ask him to tell the House what is stopping him from writing to the IBA and the BBC saying "Yes"?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that the proposals obviously fit into the future pattern of broadcasting and must await general decisions. It would be useless to pre-empt those by taking immediate decisions which might not conform to the overall pattern.
Is my hon. Friend aware that those of us who support the Annan recommendations would take it very much amiss if he were to extend existing broadcasting services and thus pre-empt the situation before he has made a decision on the Annan Report?
That illustrates the wisdom of the Government in awaiting the general conclusions.
Will the hon. Gentleman nevertheless say when the Government will publish their White Paper on the Annan Report? What on earth is going on to delay it for so long?
The right hon. Gentleman has the great advantage that he does not need to plough through the 174 recommendations of the Annan Report. I would be surprised if he did so when the debate takes place. The fact is that there are 500 pages in the report, 174 recommendations and many representations on them. It would be doing less than justice to the importance of the subject if we were to rush the matter through. [Laughter.] I must confess that I always admire the instant expertise of hon. Members who devote 30 seconds before a Question and 30 seconds afterwards to the subject. We have to devote proper time and consideration, because these same hon. Gentlemen will be equally quick with their condemnation if we get it wrong.
Is the Minister of State aware that the Director-General of the BBC said a few days ago in Cardiff that there was no chance of the BBC extending local radio stations in Wales and that therefore Cardiff, which was twentieth on the original list for independent radio, should now be granted that right?
I am aware of that—as I am aware of the letter the Director-General wrote a few days later correcting that statement.
Hospital Broadcasting Services
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will refuse any application to include advertising in hospital broadcasting services.
My right hon. Friend has received one application to include advertising in a hospital broadcasting service on an experimental basis for one year initially. We shall decide whether to approve it when consultations now taking place with interested parties have been completed.
Is my hon. Friend aware that most of the hospital broadcasting service would be much opposed to the introduction of advertising into what is essentially a therapeutic service and would regard the introduction of even a small or experimental element as changing the nature of the service and being highly undesirable?
I understand that that has been the evidence of the hospital broadcasting services so far. They are holding a postal referendum among constituent members. We are awaiting the result of this before completing our consultations.
Is the Minister aware that many hospital broadcasting organisations are worried that they could lose benefits which they are getting at the moment as a result of advertising? Will he take seriously the submission to his Department by the National Association of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations?
Certainly. That is one of the worrying factors—that by introducing advertising the benefits flowing from charitable organisations may be lost. That is one of the things that we shall have to bear in mind. I ask the House to realise that in any event this would be on an experimental basis for one year initially. It would not be a once-for-all decision.
Criminal Damage Victims
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in view of the increasing incidence of damage to property caused by football hooliganism, he will bring forward legislation to provide for compensation for victims of criminal damage.
Power to require an offender to pay such compensation is already provided by Section 35 of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973. We have no present plans to add to that power or to the provisions of the Riot (Damages) Act 1886.
Why are these powers not being used by magistrates? Has the hon. Gentleman received details of the £2,000-worth of damage caused by Wolves supporters in January in my constituency, when 17 offenders were brought before the courts but no compensation orders were made? Will he take steps to ensure that magistrates are made fully aware of their power to award costs?
All magistrates are fully aware of these provisions. It is not the case that no use is being made of them. Over 27,000 orders were made under the powers of the Criminal Courts Act in 1976. I cannot instruct magistrates how to discharge their duties. They have the powers, and it is up to them to use them if they think fit.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in the Hillsborough Division of Sheffield—my constituency—last year the Leeds-Manchester match resulted in terrible havoc being caused on the ground and a severe loss to shopkeepers and public house owners who had to board up their establishments? Is he aware that these people received no compensation at all? Does he know whether there is any provision allowing a local rate to be used in a discretionary manner for the payment of compensation to those poor people?
I could not answer that offhand. I will check the position. The situation is that under the Riot (Damages) Act, if what is termed a riot occurs as a result of the default of the police, that can be a matter for claim. Otherwise it is for the courts to impose an order for compensation upon individual offenders when they appear before them.
Does the Minister agree that the police have very many better things to do than to be "mixing it" with young football hooligans? Would he not accept that the main responsibility for discipline here has ultimately to rest with the clubs in respect of the drink and the many other things that are imported into the grounds? Will he recognise that the report published today is a sad and unsatisfactory document?
There are two reports out today which I am studying at the moment. I believe that they are both right to say that there is no simple solution. What the police say is that they can control violence perfectly easily within the grounds. The violence which occurs going to and coming from the grounds is what causes the problem. I agree with the hon. Gentleman to this extent: that there is no simple solution. We cannot say that if only the police were there they would be able to control the trouble. It is a vastly complex matter and includes the responsibility of us all in the way we bring up our children.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people were convicted in the United Kingdom for the most recent year available for not having a current dog licence; and how many man-hours the Metropolitan Police spend on enforcing dog licences.
In England and Wales in 1976, 4,224 persons were found guilty of offences relating to dog licences. The information requested in the second part of the Question is not available.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the situation in regard to dog licences has become a farce? Is it not high time that the Government implemented the majority of the recommendations of the Working Party on Dogs? Does she not agree that we should not continue with the situation in which policemen are being asked to implement an utterly ridiculous law?
I am in sympathy with my hon. Friend's view. Implementation of the report of the working party is a matter for the Secretary of State for the Environment, and I understand that his Department v/ill shortly be making a statement on the report.
Is it not about time that the Government had a serious look at the possibility of amalgamating the forms and methods of obtaining dog licences, gun licences, television licences, car licences and so on—preferably not at Swansea—so that people could have the option of going to their local post office once a year and filling in the relevant forms for the licences they require and thus have one administration rather than four, five or six?
From the way the hon. Gentleman describes his proposed system, it sounds a lot more complicated than the present arrangements. The administrative reason for the current arrangements is that money collected from various licences goes to different Government Departments. It may be of interest to the House to know that dog licences bring in about £1,097,000 a year.
Television Licence Evasion
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects the working party consisting of representatives of his Department, the BBC and the Post Office to complete its study of the problem of television licence evasion.
The joint working party on the administration of the broadcast receiving licence system keeps the question of television licence evasion under continuous review. As a result of the latest estimate of evasion, it is currently con- sidering the most effective way of initiating an intensive campaign against evasion later this year.
I welcome that reply as far as it goes, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that licence evasion still costs the BBC £15 million a year in lost revenue and that this means not only that honest, law-abiding viewers subsidise the scroungers and dodgers but that viewers are being deprived of better-quality programmes which could otherwise be provided with that sort of money? As the penalty for evasion is only £50 and the licence fee is £21, is there not a case for substantially increasing the penalty to, say, £200 in the light of present circumstances?
I accept the hon. Gentleman's rough estimate of the loss to the BBC through licence evasion. I do not defend the evasion of licence fees. It deprives a great number of people of programmes of extra quality and puts a burden upon the rest of us. We believe that the penalties are adequate. If they are thought to be inadequate, it is a great pity that last year's Act was not amended to increase the penalties.
Will the working party be dealing with the impudent television licence inquiry letters which ask people who have no television set and, therefore, no need of a licence and who are committing no offence to inform the National Television Licence Records Office that they have no set? Or could it be that the Government are considering sending to each citizen every year a list of offences asking us to tick off those that we have not committed?
One has only to compare the hon. Gentleman's question with the original supplementary question to see the difficulties involved in enforcing the payment of television licence fees. I agree that there must be a balance between reasonable methods of enforcement and intrusion, and attempts are made to maintain this balance. I hope that the joint working party will take into account what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that probably the best way to get rid of licence evasion is to do away with the system and to secure revenue for the BBC through taxation? Would not this have the additional advantage of giving the greatest concession to those at the lower end of the income scale?
It would always cut the number of offenders under a law if one abolished the law. There may be arguments whether the licence system is the most apposite way of funding broadcasting, but, given that the system exists, I do not believe that there is any excuse for evading one's responsibilities under it.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will review the practice of regular Home Office appeals against the decisions of adjudicators in immigration cases.
No, Sir. The Home Office does not seek leave to appeal to the immigration appeal tribunal as a matter of course but only in cases where a point of law is involved or, more rarely, when an adjudicator's decision is thought to be clearly contrary to the weight of the evidence.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the adjudicating system is an important safeguard in the whole question of dealing with immigration regulations and must be seen to be an effective safeguard? Does she agree that if the Home Office continues its practice, which is increasing year by year, of deliberately setting out to overthrow the adjudicators' decision in numerous cases, this will undermine the efficacy of the adjudication system?
My hon. Friend misinterprets the position. Under the Immigration Act 1971, any party to an appeal to an adjudicator may, if dissatisfied with the determination, appeal to the immigration appeal tribunal. Between 1974 and 1976, 150 such Home Office apeals were heard and determined and 695 appeals from immigrants were heard and determined.
Does the Minister agree that the single most important objective of immigration policy should be strictly to control immigration? Will she explain why the Home Office does not, as a start, follow the excellent example of the present Prime Minister, who in 1969 withdrew the right of male fianées to enter this country?
Apart from the fact that the hon. Gentleman's question has nothing to do with the original Question, it was this Government who introduced the right of male fianées to enter this country, because there was sexual discrimination to the extent that fiancés and wives were allowed entry but fianées and husbands were not.
Will my hon. Friend look at the way in which her Department is interpreting the Divisional Court judgment in Ru Bangoo whereby any Commonwealth citizen in this country who left after 1973 for a holiday can have his status impugned and be put on a 'plane without right of appeal? Is this not the beginning of a policy of repatriation?
My hon. Friend has raised a particular case. May I suggest that he writes to me with full details of his argument. I shall consider it.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he contemplates any amendment or provision for the stricter enforcement of the Judges' Rules.
No, Sir. These are matters central to the task of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. I intend, however, to reissue in one publication the Judges' Rules, the administrative directions to the police and the relevant Home Office circulars, and to draw to the attention of all concerned the importance of the rules.
That notification is welcome, but would not my right hon. Friend agree that the most effective way of ensuring that the Judges' Rules are observed instead of being disregarded, as they frequently are, would be to make provision for evidence obtained in breach of the Judges' Rules to be prima facie inadmissible? Will he suggest to the Royal Commission that it should take that suggestion into account?
We have the Royal Commission, and my hon. Friend is active in legal circles concerned with this issue. I hope that he and others will give evidence to the Royal Commission. After all, that is what it is for. I shall shortly be issuing a circular under Section 62, which will be relevant to this issue and the discussions that have taken place throughout the country with police forces. It will be issued during April.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the rule whereby a juvenile cannot be questioned unless his parents are present can inhibit police inquiries in circumstances in which the parents cannot be traced or are unwilling to go to the police station? Is there not a case for adjusting that rule to allow for a third party to be available to be present for such inquiries?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look back at the debate on Section 62 and consider the circular that I am shortly to issue. When he has done so, that will be the time to raise the matter. The balance between what he is concerned about and freedom is one of importance, and we are trying to get the best of both worlds.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great concern at the growing police practice of holding people in custody without arrest or charge and at the recent instances of the ineffectiveness of habeas corpus applications to secure remedies against these abuses of Executive power?
If my hon. Friend can bring to my notice an example that is within my responsibility, I shall talk to the police force concerned and get its view on it. I am sure that he will do that.
Police (Surveillance Duties)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many extra police have been allocated duties that include surveillance of Members of Parliament and trade union leaders.
The responsibilities of the police do not include such duties; so the question does not arise.
Why is it that during the course of at least a two-year period the police were following Left-wing demon- strators and activists at rallies and other events with a view, so we are told, eventually to take some training films, or whatever? Will my right hon. Friend put an end to the speculation that the withdrawal of certain Special Branch officers from the ports to central London is entirely unconnected with what he has said before? Is it not time that our overstretched police force, as we are so often reminded it is, concentrated its activities on a much narrower front—namely, on investigating the National Front instead of protecting it as it is at present?
What my hon. Friend says at the end of his supplementary question is not true.
Well, I think it is.
In that case, my hon. Friend is wrong yet again. What he says about police protecting the National Front is not true. What he says about the Special Branch is not true. The Special Branch collects information on those whom I think cause problems for the State. However, my hon. Friend asked me about Members of Parliament and trade union leaders being followed. The answer is "No". The conclusion drawn in the article in Private Eye giving the reason for withdrawing Special Branch officers from the ports and letting the police forces concerned undertake that task makes Private Eye even more amusing and wrong than usual.
Will not the right hon. Gentleman take pity on the obvious disappointment of his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that he is not being surveyed? Could he not allocate a retired part-time person to keep an eye on him?
If that were a judgment that I had to make, a number of people would have to be worried about whom I would allocate.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with the prospect for reducing overcrowding in local prisons in 1978–79.
The prison population, which is at present over 41,500, shows no sign of falling, and overcrowding, particularly in local prisons, is a matter of continuing concern. I hope that some relief will be afforded by building schemes already in progress which are expected to provide 4,700 extra places by 1981–82, but much will depend before then on the level of crime and the sentencing practice of the courts.
Is not the worst overcrowding in the prison system to be found at local prisons? Even on the Government's reduced plans for an increase in the number of places, is it not the case that serious overcrowding will continue? If the Minister agrees that overcrowding on that scale is bad for prison staff, for the management of the inmates and even for the prison buildings, surely he must recognise that the Government's plans are grossly inadequate.
The hon. and learned Gentleman will know that we do not shirk from the fact that overcrowding is a serious matter for the prison staff and the prisoners. He will know that I announced the procedure in Wymolt, which is a short-term prison, which will provide 800 places. However, on our plans the overcrowding will be cut by one-third during the time scale that I have mentioned.
Will my hon. Friend investigate the case of Mr. Twigger, who the other day spent his ninetieth birthday in Parkhurst? Is he aware that it is hardly the mark of a civilised country to keep 90-year-olds in gaol? Will he have another look at the case?
Mr. Twigger was convicted of murder and attempted murder at the age of 88. I have considered the case, and my hon. Friend will already have had a reply or will shortly be having one. Serious crimes in this sort of age group pose problems that are not usual.
Chief Constable Of Lancashire
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now make a statement on the findings of the inquiry into the conduct of the Chief Constable of Lancashire, Mr. Stanley Parr.
The Lancashire Police Authority dismissed Mr. Parr after a tribunal, set up under the relevant regulations, had found 24 charges of discreditable conduct and two of falsehood proved against him. He has withdrawn his appeal to me against these decisions.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the investigation conducted by Sir Douglas Osmond revealed some unsavoury incidents that were not referred to the tribunal by the Lancashire Police Authority? In that circumstance, is he prepared to renew or extend the original inquiry?
I have asked to see the Osmond Report. I had not asked to see it before because I had a part to play in the appeal if Mr. Parr had so appealed. I now have the report, and I shall study it carefully. I cannot state at this moment whether a more general inquiry is necessary. When I have read the report, I shall take all the necessary action that I think is required.
In supporting the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) for a general inquiry on the matters raised in the Osmond Report, may I ask my right hon. Friend to add consideration of all the other cases that have arisen since the report has been issued, many of them being of substance?
This is a difficult matter to deal with across the Floor of the House, although I agree that my hon. Friends were extremely reasonable until the judicial aspect had been completed. I am due to meet some Lancashire Members from the Labour Benches who have asked to see me. If there are any additional factors that they wish to bring to my notice, I shall take them into account. I was not able to talk in this way or to listen in this way until a week or two ago.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he plans to introduce legislation on any of the proposals in the Home Office Research Unit paper on gambling.
No, Sir. This report does not make specific policy recommendations, but we shall take account of its contents when considering the forthcoming report of the Royal Commission on Gambling.
Did not the report indicate that too little is know about gambling and its effects? In these circumstances, does the hon. Lady think that there would be any merit in a close monitoring of the results of the newest form of gambling—namely, local authority lotteries, which have been recently introduced—with a view to having the sort of information upon which to base future policy?
I feel sure that the Royal Commission on Gambling, which will report later this year, will include its comments on the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
Does my hon. Friend think that we are being a little hypocritical by allowing bingo, betting shops, premium bends and football pools but not allowing a State lottery, which could do an enormous amount of good?
That is another extremely important matter on which the Royal Commission will be reporting.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why the Government decided to devolve responsibility for summertime to the proposed Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
Summer time, as past experience shows, is clearly a matter where there may be genuine arguments for a different Scottish practice. The subject is therefore appropriate for devolution to the Scottish Administration. The Government do not now propose to devolve responsibility for summer time to the Welsh Assembly.
I congratulate the Minister on this important change of policy that she has announced today. In relation to the possibility of a different time in Scotland compared with England and Wales at any given moment, has she had any discussions with the Patronage Secretary to decide whether, after devolution, Members from different parts of the United Kingdom will arrive for a 10 o'clock vote at Westminster at a different time?
I am sure that that matter, raised by the hon. Gentleman many times before, will be considered by the Scottish Assembly, because it will have to decide whether to have a different summer time. This is giving the Assembly the responsibility to decide as it sees fit.
As Northern Ireland is in a similar geographical location to Scotland, why should not the Northern Irish decide their summer time?
No doubt that matter will be raised when devolution for Northern Ireland is considered.
Electoral Registration (Illegal Immigrants)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will undertake an inquiry into the number of known illegal immigrants who had registered on the electoral lists.
Why not? I know from experience in my constituency that there are illegal immigrants on the register. Why does the Minister think that it is of so little account that frauds and cheats should be allowed to vote in our elections?
Because the responsibility for placing the names on the register is that of the electoral registration officer. If the hon. Gentleman is so certain in his mind and has examples, perhaps he will let that gentleman into the secret.
In view of a recent reply to me on the subject of illegal immigrants and amnesties, will the Minister confirm whether the 2,456 people who have applied for benefit under the terms of the amnesty are eligible, if accepted, to sit as jurymen and to vote in general and local elections?
That matter does not arise on this Question, but my understanding is "Yes".
Television Licence Refunds
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many claims for refund of television licences were received by the National Television Licence Records Office during the last financial year.
No record is kept of the number of applications for television licence refunds.
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that some alteration of the present arrangements should be considered, because many people who cannot afford to keep up the rentals on television sets find that they cannot get refunds of their licence fees when they have to send back their sets? It seems very unfair.
I understand what my hon. Friend has said. However, he will doubtless be aware that the Annan Committee recommended no change in the refund policy. It is a fact that, even under the present limited arrangements, approximately £4 million was refunded in 1976–77.
Is the Minister aware that the problem of refunds will become acute if there is no ITV or BBC television to look at in 12 months' time? Will he speed up a decision on extending the licensing of those two authorities?
They fall for renewal in about 17 or 18 months. If necessary, pending wider legislation, Bills will be introduced to extend their charters.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now state his policy regarding self-confessed racialist organisations, their public meetings and marches, and their free party political television programmes at election times.
Following recent disorders in connection with marches and meetings organised by the National Front, I have reviewed the powers in the Public Order Act 1936. I have considered a number of changes suggested to me and have consulted chief officers of police. Nothing has emerged so far from these discussions which indicates that deficiencies in the present law are a major problem.The Government are wholly opposed to those who seek to propagate racialist views. The law on incitement to racial hatred has only recently been strengthened, and it remains too early to make any considered judgment upon the change. The question of election broadcasting arrangements is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council.
I warmly welcome the Ilford ban, but cannot the order be made to apply more selectively to distinguish between self-confessed racialist organisations and political parties—Left, Right and Centre—as racialism is a crime? If the race relations legislation does not operate in that way, will my right hon. Friend seek to amend it as it is nearly a year since it was altered?
The legislation was altered in June to take account of the incitement aspect. I think that we should wait and see what happens in the courts.I repeat, the decision was taken on the ground of serious public disorder. It is a fact that people other than those marching can cause serious public disorder. This is not an easy matter. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has decided to ban marches in that area. In that I give him my full support. If it needs to be extended because the National Front has said that in a by-election in Lambeth it will make the situation even worse, it will be for the Commissioner to decide what to do. We shall have to see what he proposes.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2nd March.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.
Has the Prime Minister noted the apology offered to the House on Tuesday by the Secretary of State for Employment for using incorrect international unemployment comparisons? Since the Prime Minister has joined the Secretary of State for Employment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—in quoting bogus unemployment statistics, will he also give the House an apology? In addition, will he now concede that the Government are using unfair comparisons and that our unemployment is higher than that of any of our inter-rational competitors?
No, Sir. My right hon. Friend took a table out of Hansard and found that he used an incorrect basis. He then wrote to the hon. Gentleman who had raised the matter with him, and he apologised. He then made a full statement in the House. There is really no more to be said than that.
Has the Prime Minister had time to read the statement made yesterday by the Chancellor to a meeting of Neddy in which he said that he thought he would not be able to reflate the economy at a sufficient speed to restore full employment and higher wages in this country for fear of sucking in an import boom? Does it appear to the Prime Minister that we are now to sacrifice full employment and higher wages for the dubious benefits of free trade? Will he therefore discuss internationally the whole question of the world planning of trade in order that the Chancellor of the Exchequer can do something about the restoration of full employment?
The Government are extremely active internationally in trying to reconcile the different objectives of a number of Governments. For example, the German Government believe that the maintenance of the present rate of inflation is their prior commitment. The American Government want to see a faster rate of growth despite the effect on the dollar. These international matters are causing a loss of confidence, as I have constantly said, among industrialists in the Western world. The sooner that we can resolve them, the better.
To return to the Prime Minister's previous reply on unemployment, may I ask whether he now accepts that the Labour Government's record on unemployment is worse than that of most of our industrial competitors? I think that he must, because I believe that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Unemployment does, and that was really the point of his apology. If so, does the Prime Minister agree that the countries which have put competitiveness at the top of their lists of priorities have done better on unemployment than we have, because they have fewer people out of work and they have got both our customers and our jobs? What is his policy for enabling British industry to become more competitive?
I notice that the right hon. Lady now uses the word "most". In fact, our biggest competitor in Western Europe has a comparatively worse record on unemployment than we have. I refer to Germany, where unemployment has increased by four times since 1973. [Interruption.] That is the prime exemplar—
Whatever may be said, I promise you, Mr. Speaker, that it does not disturb me in the slightest. Germany, of course, is the prime exemplar of the market economy to which the right hon. Lady refers. Its unemployment record is much worse than ours by comparison. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give the figure."] If hon. Members want the figure, they should put down a Question. If they insist on pressing me, allow me to continue. In 1973 it was 0·8 per cent. in Western Germany and it is now 3·5 per cent. This deterioration is much worse than that experienced by this country. No shouting by hon. Members can alter that figure.It is all very well for the Leader of the Opposition to shed tears about unemployment. Every aspect of Conservative policy would add to that. What is more, the Opposition have even had the effrontery to complain that redundancy payments are paid when people lose their jobs.
It is because we put down Written Questions and got Written Answers that I use these figures to ask the question. On 4th October 1977 the German unemployment rate was 3·5 per cent. and the comparable rate in Britain was 7·2 per cent. in the same circumstances of world trade. Will the Prime Minister answer the original question? Does he accept that those countries that have concentrated on being competitive have taken our customers and our jobs? When will he accept the blame for this situation, which is due to the country having a Labour Government for four years?
I do not think that the right hon. Lady even believes what she is saying. It is, of course, correct that the total numbers unemployed in Germany and Britain are now closer together than they were. That is to say, the figure is rather over 1 million in Germany and under 1½ million in this country. The figure for Britain is now going down. As to the creation of jobs, it is precisely because of the need for the industrial strategy to make this country more productive when it has been less productive than Germany in the last 20 to 25 years that I would at some time invite the Opposition to consider calmly and quietly how they can help us in this task.
asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Chelsea.
I have at present no plans to do so.
When the Prime Minister does go to Chelsea, will he go to the Chelsea Barracks and talk to the soldiers who are waiting to see the report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body? Will he allow the Review Body to make a genuine recommendation about comparability and leave the decisions to the Government, or will he let the Review Body hide behind the skirts of the Government's so-called pay policy?
I suppose that the question of Army pay could arise on a visit to Chelsea. My understanding is that the Review Body is free to report in any way that it thinks fit. Then the Government will have to take the appropriate decision.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Leader of the Opposition lives in Chelsea? If she were to invite my right hon. Friend to tea together with the Leader of the Liberal Party to discuss immigration policy, would the Prime Minister then pay an official visit?
I should prefer an unofficial invitation for this purpose. I should inquire who would be present at tea. I hope that I should not be there among the Gang of Four.
If the Prime Minister goes to Chelsea, will he go by water? Is he not concerned at a second Select Committee report about the uneasy relationship between a Minister and a nationalised industry? Does this mean that the Government are losing their enthusiasm for public ownership?
I remind the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) that Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea. He did not walk on them. The Select Committee to which the hon. Member refers has a wonderful reputation. However, people who sit on the side of the pitch always believe that they can play the game better than those in the middle of it.
In view of the Tory Party's policy, in more general terms, of being in favour of non-intervention in industry, can the Prime Minister say how many letters of complaint he has received either from people in Chelsea or from the directors of the firms which financially support the Tory Party, who now say that they do not want taxpayers' money to intervene in industry? Does he accept that intervention to private enterprise is running at £11 million a day?
A growing number of firms are receiving State aid. I do not recall a single letter from any of them asking me to withdraw State aid in order to reduce public expenditure on the lines that the Opposition are always asking us to do.
asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the progress in implementing the proposals in the Gracious Speech.
Good progress has been made in implementing the main proposals in the Gracious Speech.
Is the Prime Minister satisfied with the less-than-dramatic progress that is being made on the invisible Electricity Bill? Will he find out from the Liberal Party why its Members blacklisted it?
If it comes forward, the Electricity Bill will be concerned with compensation for Drax B and with reorganisation of the Industry I should be very happy indeed to see both these matters go through If the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) can give any undertaking to me about his vote, that might influence our attitude.
When considering these proposals, did the Prime Minister notice that the Leader of the Opposition seems to be obsessed with the need to find scapegoats, whether they are unemployed people about whom she talks and then calls scroungers or black people whom she calls coloured immigrants? Does my right hon. Friend accept that after the next Election, if the Tories are defeated, the Leader of the Opposition will be called a scapegoat by the very people who are now supporting her?
My hon. Friends should not become obsessed with the Leader of the Conservative Party. The electorate will judge for themselves at the General Election. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] The electorate will judge outside of the scaremongering that is going on at present. Every one of my hon. Friends will be able to be proud of the record that we shall have had over the last four or five years.
Since the speediest return to full employment and a sustained growth in output was described in the Gracious Speech as the Government's main objectives, and since neither of them is being fulfilled by the Government, what is the Prime Minister going to do about it?
The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) knows perfectly well of the measures that have been brought forward by the Secretary of State for Employment as recently as the beginning of this week. He knows that we have made arrangements to ensure that every young person between the ages of 16 and 19 shall receive further training or education. We have done more about this world problem than has been done by any other single Government in the whole of Western Europe.
Supplementary Questions (Mr Speaker's Statement)
Arising out of Prime Minister's Questions, I have a very brief statement to make.There has been an increasing tendency in recent months for hon. Members to send me messages requesting to be called for supplementary questions on Prime Minister's Questions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Order. Probably some of those hon. Members who are now making a noise have sent notes. This practice has even been followed on business questions. I want the House to know that I do not like this new tendency because it is grossly unfair to the rest of the House, which fortunately abides by the old system. I must tell the House quite frankly that such requests are and will be counter-productive so far as I am concerned. As the House knows, it is a fairly recent innovation for hon. Members even to write in with requests to speak in debates—it has happened only in the last few years—and I try to be as fair as I can in that matter. It may interest the House to know that in this Session over 130 different right hon. and hon. Members have been called on Prime Minister's Questions, so I hope that it is clear that I have tried to get as wide a spread as possible.
May I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that if you do not want the notes, perhaps hon. Members will send them to me.
Business Of The House
May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?
The business for next week will be as follows:MONDAY 6TH MARCH—There will be a debate on the security situation in Northern Ireland, on a motion for the Adjournment. Motions on Northern Ireland Orders on Appropriation, Industries Development, Property, Rehabilitation of Offenders and Sexual Offences. Motion relating to the Firearms (Variation and Fees) (Northern Ireland) Order. TUESDAY 7TH MARCH AND WEDNESDAY 8TH MARCH—Further progress in Committee on the Wales Bill. THURSDAY 9TH MARCH—Supply [11th Allotted Day]: the Question will be put on all outstanding Votes and Supplementary Estimates. There will be a debate on the First, Second and Fifth Reports from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries on the British Steel Corporation. It is expected that opposed Private Business will be named for consideration. With the approval of the Chairman of Ways and Means, and subject to the agreement of the House, it will be taken at 10 o'clock. FRIDAY 10TH MARCH—Private Members motions. MONDAY 13TH MARCH—Debate on a motion on the statement on the Defence Estimates, Command No. 7099, which will be concluded on Tuesday, 14th March.
May I put one point to the Lord President? He will recall that I have asked him before about a debate on the public expenditure White Paper taking place before Easter, because the Budget is to take place soon after Easter. So far he has not announced such a debate. I assume that we shall still have a full debate on the public expenditure White Paper. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that it will be before Easter and that it will be fairly soon?
The expenditure White Paper has not yet been fully published and therefore we have to wait a while. However, I take account of the right hon. Lady's representations, although I cannot give an absolute guarantee.
We have had this White Paper before in a typescript form. There is no difficulty about doing that. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that we shall have a debate on the public expenditure White Paper before Easter?
I must have a look at the matter. I am not sure whether there might not be complaints in other respects if we did this in the form that the right hon. Lady is suggesting. We are prepared to discuss this matter, as we have discussed it before.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are still concerned about his failure to bring forward the electricity reorganisation Bill? Is he also aware that in that way he is causing grave offence to many of his right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as to people working in the electricity supply industry? Is he further aware that he could be accused of political cowardice? Will he now honour the pledge contained in the Queen's Speech and bring this Bill forward?
I do not know how my hon. Friend could in any sense accuse me of political cowardice on the matter, and I certainly resent any such suggestion. It is highly desirable that when this matter is brought forward it should go through the House. We want to secure that. It is also necessary in the interests of the electricity industry itself.
Will only one Minister make statements on behalf of the Government about compensation for the recent blizzards and floods, or will the Minister of Agriculture make a statement about compensation to agriculture and a Department of Environment Minister make a statement on matters falling within his normal departmental experience?
I think that the hon. Gentleman must have missed the statement made to the House on this matter. In any case, it is not a question which arises on next week's business. When my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of the Environment, made statements to the House, they were well received in all quarters.
Will the right hon. Gentleman please hold out some hope of a debate on the progress of events in Rhodesia, if not next week, then before the Easter Recess, since there are some promising developments there? That would be an opportunity for the House to express, on an all-party basis, its support and admiration for those who are trying there to urge a peaceful settlement on a non-racial basis.
We are all in favour—and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman may be so—of a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia, but I am not certain that the kind of debate he is suggesting would be the best way to proceed.
Will my right hon. Friend give an indication that we may expect a statement or a Bill on Members' pensions so that we may debate the subject, which is of concern to all hon. Members?
I am fully aware of the interest in the matter on all sides and of the representations I have had from all sides of the House about it. The Government have now completed their consideration of the recommendations for parliamentary pensions contained in Report No. 8 of the Top Salaries Review Body, and they are prepared to accept all of those recommendations. It is now the Government's intention to introduce a Bill to give effect to the proposed changes as soon as possible in this current Session.
Will the right hop. Gentleman indicate that the House will have an opportunity to debate the Carter Report on the Post Office? The report was debated as long ago as November in another place. Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is extremely important, dealing, as it does, with the largest employer in the country?
I understand the importance of the report. We would be very glad to debate the subject in the House, but it is open to the Opposition to select subjects for debate, and I would have thought that this was a good one.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that nearly 100 right hon. and hon. Members of all parties have signed the Early-Day Motion about the integrity of Belize? Even if he cannot arrange a debate next week, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that no changes will be made in that part of the world without a full debate in this House?[That this House demands that Her Majesty's Government stand by the decisions of the United Nations, the Commonwealth Prime Minister's Conference and the wishes of the Government and people of Belize in supportingthe territorial integrity of the colony; that the Governments of Guatemala and Mexico should be informed that no carve-up of Belize against the wishes of her people is contemplated; and that President Carter, in pursuance of his policies on human rights, should be asked to end the supply of United States arms and training facilities to Guatemala, which can only add to the threat against the people of Belize.]
I understand the significance that my hon. Friend and many others who have signed her motion attach to the matter. The answers that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave previously when he replied to the House fully met the representations that she and others were making. I cannot give an exact promise on the timing of a debate, but I shall take account of her representations.
Will the right hon. Gentleman return to the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the need to have a debate on the public expenditure White Paper before Easter? Does he recollect that in previous years we have discussed that White Paper on the strength of a report from the Expenditure Committee, which was certainly important and which was produced only in typescript? Why can we not do that this year? Is he aware that successive Governments have given the undertaking, and fulfilled it, that the public expenditure White Paper would be debated in Government time before the Budget? We attach importance to that.Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that the White Paper makes provision for increases in public expenditure which in all probability exceed any tax cuts that the Chancellor might make in the Budget? Does he realise, therefore, that it is a document of overriding importance which should be debated in this House before the Budget is presented?
I do not think that I have anything to add to what I said before about our readiness to discuss this question, but I am very doubtful that with a report of this character, particularly if it has all the significance that the right hon. and learned Gentleman says it has, it would be satisfactory for the House if it were available only in typescript.
Will the Leader of the House inform us when it is likely, and certainly whether it will be before Easter, that we shall have the statement relating to Windscale and the date when the report will be published and when a debate could be arranged? In particular, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there are now coming into the Press—for example, The Sunday Times—what appear to be definitive statements claiming to know the method by which the legal difficulties are to be overcome, and this is raising anxieties?Finally, will my right hon. Friend make certain that as and when the report is published there is ample time for not only this House but the whole nation and the Press to be able to study what will clearly be a long and undoubtedly complex report?
I fully understand the feelings on this subject of hon. Members in all parts of the House, and the Government have taken them fully into account. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement to the House on this subject next week, and it will cover all the aspects of the matter that my hon. Friend has raised.
If the Government do not now intend to introduce the Merchant Shipping Bill this Session, will the Leader of the House find time to say so next week, so that we may then seek some other means of debating the urgent problems facing the shipping industry?
I shall certainly consider the matter, and whether it would be helpful to the House to make a statement of the character that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. Of course, we would very much have wished to have that Bill introduced this Session, but, as I indicated at the beginning, there was pressure on time and we could not give any guarantee. I shall look at the point.
If the Liberals are unwilling to accept a Bill for the reorganisation of the electricity industry, does my right hon. Friend believe that they would approve of a Bill that would permit the payment of compensation to the Central Electricity Generating Board so that the Drax B power station construction can start?
I accept what my hon. Friend and others have said. Certainly I am in no position to speak for the Liberal Party, but I am sure that the Liberals would wish to see that part of the Bill going forward. I do not think that there is any dispute about that. The Government would like to see the whole Bill going forward. That is what we are wishing to secure, but that may not be possible.
Would the Leader of the House like to publish a list at some time, perhaps next week, of the important debates that have been dealt with by this House on typescript documents? Is it that the right hon. Gentleman is afraid of our straining our eyes when reading this typescript document, or is it the fact that he is afraid of getting another defeat on a Government White Paper on expenditure that is restraining him?
The hon. Member has been a Member of the House for quite a long time now. It is really time for him to try to let the nicer side of his nature emerge. It is not necessary that every time he rises he should give his famous imitation of a semi-house-trained polecat.
In view of the excessive amount of time spent during this Session and last Session debating the affairs of Scotland and Wales, and in view of the industrial problems in the North-West, will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the Floor of the House about the problems in the North-West?
I fully understand the desire of my hon. Friends who represent different parts of the country to discuss employment and industrial problems in their own parts of the country. We had several debates at an earlier stage. After Easter we shall have to see whether we can make a similar approach, but in the immediate time ahead I cannot promise such a debate, although I shall take account of the representations that my hon. Friend and others have made on this matter.
As the report on public expenditure is to be published on 10th March, will the Leader of the House give a definite undertaking that it will be debated in the week beginning 13th March?
I cannot give such an undertaking. I repeat what I said at the beginning. We are certainly prepared to have discussions about the matter through the usual channels, but I cannot give a promise about it.
As the Prime Minister regards the forthcoming special session of the United Nations on disarmament as of sufficient importance that he will attend and speak there, and as the decision of NATO on the deployment of the neutron bomb is to be made immediately before that conference, may I ask whether there will be any time for a debate on this matter so that we can make sure that the Government adopt a very positive policy towards the disarmament conference?
I cannot promise a debate on the subject before Easter, but of course, the fact of the Prime Minister's visit to the United Nations attaches a special significance to this matter. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend and others in the House will find means of making representations on the matter to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
Order. I shall call those hon. Members who have risen so far, because the rest of the business is covered by a timetable motion.
As the Prime Minister indicated in quite unequivocal terms a few minutes ago his apparently unbridled contempt for the work of Select Committees, to the dismay of hon. Members in all parts of the House who labour diligently on these Committees in what they believe to be the public interest, will the Leader of the House table a motion indicating what is the Government's attitude towards Select Committees, so that this may be debated and the House may indicate its views of the Government's view?
I do not think that the Prime Minister displayed any such alleged unbridled contempt. I thought that he made a very measured statement.
Is it true that the debates on the reports of the Select Com- mittee on Nationalised Industries will take place on motions in the name of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition? If it is true, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is the most incompetent and stupid abuse of the purpose of Select Committees and that it is the most insensitive and contemptible disregard of the real needs of the steel industry to use it for stupid and superficial party-political purposes?
I am gratified by my hon. Friend's question, and I shall be very happy to sing "Auld Lang Syne" with him when going through the Division Lobby—assuming that my hon. Friend does not regard that as too nationalistic an expression of our fervour.
When does the right hon. Gentleman expect an announcement to be made on the moving of the Writ for the impending by-election in Glasgow, Garscadden? Is he aware that the Scottish National Party is ready for this challenge and is ready to face the opinions of local people in respect of Labour's past record of neglect in the West-Central belt and on devolution?
I am sure that the hon. Member knows that that is not a business question that is directly for my concern.
Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) about a debate on the problems of the North-West? My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have been pressing for a statement and a debate on the subject of British Leyland's action and the loss of 3,000 jobs. In the North-West we have an additional problem in regard to the temporary employment subsidy in the textile industry. I am sure that my right hon. Friend must feel that these problems are sufficient justification for a debate on the Floor of the House or in Committee.
My hon. Friend has certainly pressed me on every possible occasion, and very naturally so, in relation to the unemployment situation in his own constituency. There will be a statement on British Leyland before Easter. No doubt we can see then how we shall proceed after that. However, I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble). After Easter no doubt we can also see what further opportunities there may be for debates on the employment situation in various parts of the country.
Why cannot the Leader of the House promise a debate on the public expenditure White Paper before Easter? Does he not appreciate that what my right hon. Friends have been calling for is not a debate on the Select Committee's report, valuable though that may be, but a debate on the White Paper itself, which was published at the end of January? Does the Leader of the House not accept, further, that successive Governments have accepted an obligation to provide time for such a debate and have honoured that obligation?
I have nothing to add to what I said earlier on this matter.
Following the improvements in the economic situation, ought we not to have a general debate on the need for increased public expenditure, bearing in mind that at almost any Question Time, in putting questions to a variety of Ministers, Conservative Members make very pressing claims for increased public expenditure for all their constituencies, thus showing their complete distrust of and distaste for the policies submitted to the House by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition?
All those matters, including many of the questions raised by others of my hon. Friends, will be in order in the debates on the Budget.
In order that the Lord President can dispel any ambiguity that there might be about the possible debate on public expenditure, will he confirm the undertaking he gave the House on 9th February, when he said:
"That" was the date of the Budget, 11th April. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he will arrange a debate in the manner that he then described?"Of course, there would be a normal debate about public expenditure at some time before that."—[Official Report, 9th February; Vol. 943, c. 1669.]
As I said at the beginning, I am very ready to have discussions through the usual channels on how we may most conveniently approach a debate. There are some difficulties about the publication of the document, but let us have discussions about them and see how we can solve them. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we manage to solve these problems through the usual channels. That is what I suggest we should do.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the provision of hospices for the terminally ill is becoming a subject for debate outside the House? As those hospices are so inadequate, can my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on the subject in the near future?
I cannot promise an early debate, but I shall see what other opportunities there are for discussion between Ministers on the matter.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Picketing (Registration and Control) Bill, which the House gave me leave to introduce, is about to be published, and that the Bill enacts the Prime Minister's views about control of picketing, which the Prime Minister, expressed with his usual spurious gentility in June? Will the Leader of the House ensure that adequate time is provided for the Bill's passage through the House?
I thought that most charitable hon. Members thought when the hon. Gentleman introduced his Bill that it was a joke, and I think that it should be treated as such.
When does my right hon. Friend intend to fulfil the undertaking he gave the House last year concerning parliamentary control over EEC business? What is it that is taking so much time?
I fully accept the obligation that I accepted in the debate to which my hon. Friend refers. I promised that we would bring forward our proposals on the matter this Session, and I am still well within time on that promise. I have not lost sight of the undertaking I gave or of a general debate on the matter.
With regard to next Tuesday's and Wednesday's business, the Wales Bill, would it not be greatly for the convenience of the House if the right hon. Gentleman could post in the Lobby next week a list of the clauses the Government do not intend to support because they do not have a majority for them?
What the Government did yesterday, for the general convenience of the Committee, was to indicate at the beginning of the debate their attitude to the first clause. But, instead of taking the hint, Opposition Members managed to filibuster for the rest of the afternoon.
Will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw that remark? He was here for the opening of the debate. It was not only Opposition Members but Members in all parts of the House, representing all points of view, who wished to draw to the Government's attention fundamental issues raised by the first clause and to ask the Government for some replies.
Second Reading speeches.
Three months have passed since Second Reading, and the clause was about the unity of the United Kingdom. To say that there was a filibuster and to direct that accusation at the Opposition Benches is a misstatement of the truth and the reality. The right hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well. He is a great expert at mythology and trying to extend myths into history. The truth is that hon. Members wished to express in the Committee of the whole House their profound anxiety about the implications of the Bill.
I heard the beginning of the debate—I am sorry that I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman's peroration; I apologise for that—and the latter part of the debate. But I have read the Official Report of a considerable part of the intervening sections, although not every word. On previous occasions no one has been more forward than I have been in saying that there has not been filibustering on a Bill, but I believe that for the Committee to spend six hours or so at the beginning of the Committee stage discussing a clause that the Government were not pressing was a misuse of time. It could have been much better used, as is confirmed by the fact that some of those who wished to repeat their Second Reading speeches did so in Committee.
After the right hon. Gentleman has had a moment or two to reconsider, will not he accept that his earlier reply to me did him little credit and in fact robbed him of some of the small remaining credit that he has in the House? Would he now like to put a bridle on his foul-mouthed tongue and give a civil and honest reply to the question that was put to him?
If the hon. Gentleman will look at what he said he will see that my reply was perfectly apposite and that one insult deserved another.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you prevail upon my right hon. Friend to tell the House what he has against polecats, as he unfavourably compared them with the hon. Gentleman?
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has made a mistake. Yesterday was St. David's Day.
Orders Of The Day
[2ND ALLOTTED DAY]
Considered in Committee. [ Progress, 1st March.]
[MR. OSCAR MURTON in the Chair]
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Is it possible for you to communicate with Mr. Speaker later about his pronouncement concerning sending in names for speeches and questions?
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. That matter has nothing to do with the Committee.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. If you do not communicate with Mr. Speaker, will you consider the matter yourself?
I regret to disappoint the hon. Gentleman for the second time. It is not a matter that I can consider. We are in Committee.
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I raised with you yesterday the fact that we had not yet received a list of selected amendments to Clause 13. You gave us reassurance, but I still have some anxiety. Quite a number of clauses are to be debated today and they overlap with clauses to be dealt with before 7 o'clock next Tuesday. Is it possible for us to have an indication from the Business Committee or from you that Clause 13 will definitely be debated?There is still a great deal of interest in the clause, which relates to a review of the local government structure in Wales, a matter that has not been debated so far. May we have a guarantee that it will be debated next Tuesday?
The hon. Gentleman puts a great burden upon my shoulders if he asks for an assurance that it will be debated. That depends entirely upon the timetable motion and on how, within the terms of that motion, we get on with the business today and next Tuesday.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I must press you on the matter, because Clause 13, which is entirely innovatory, has never been debated in any form in the consideration of any previous Bill. It deals with the whole local government of Wales, and it has aroused opposition from every county council in Wales.Amendments have been tabled by hon. Members throughout the House, by those who are in favour of devolution, those who are against it in any form and those who want it modified. There is a desire on all sides that the clause should be debated. It is clear that under the present timetable it cannot be reached under any circumstances, even if we have the most succinct speeches, which could in no way be described as adequate, on the earlier clauses. I realise the difficulty, but I urge that the timetable be rearranged. Otherwise, the Principality and all hon. Members involved in local authorities throughout Wales will not understand how such a revolutionary clause—entirely new, arousing such opposition and affecting so many sections of the community—can go through the House without ever having been debated. I hope that consideration will be given to the fact that on the third day we could move to begin discussion on Clause 13 and to end the previous debate a little earlier. I hope that this matter will be considered and that emphasis will be given to the fact that this view is taken by Labour Members.
I must inform the hon. Gentleman that it is not within my disposition so to arrange matters. The House has passed the Business Committee's Resolution and we must abide by it and get along as best we can. I must add that the longer we spend on points of order the less time will the Committee have to discuss the Bill.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I accept your view that whatever we say now bites into the debate proper. Nevertheless, do not Back Benchers have a right to address you on the subject of the growing absurdity in which the Committee finds itself following discussion on the first day? You heard the Lord President yesterday accuse the Committee of filibustering. Nobody who heard the debate yesterday could believe that the debate on Clause 1 was a filibuster and—
Order. The hon Gentleman is straying somewhat. This is not a point of order. So long as hon. Members stay within the rules of order, they can conduct their speeches in whatever way they like So long as that procedure is followed, it is not a matter for me.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Is it not in order to address the Chair in a Committee of the House when the guillotine is operating in a way that affects us as was never intended and as was never within the Government's foresight? Is not the Committee being denied the right to debate provisions that are fundamentally important to the constitutional future of Wales and of the United Kingdom? Surely we are allowed to address the Chair on such matters. We all know that yesterday Clauses 3 to 9 and Schedule 1 were not debated at all. Therefore, we shall no doubt find ourselves in a situation in which the Committee will be invited to make progress on a Bill in which there is no opportunity to debate certain key clauses. Surely we have a right to address you on a matter which has caused consternation and which has been condemned in the country.
The hon. Gentleman is right to address the Chair, but I can only reply that the Committee is bound by resolution of the House and that is the end of the matter.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Bearing in mind the close identity of interest between the Welsh Assembly and local authorities and the fact that Clause 13 deals specifically with that topic, will you give further consideration to examining the amendments on that clause and the importance of these provisions?
This is a matter of selection which is within my province. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Could you assist the Committee by informing us what your practice would be if there were a closure motion? Yester day a number of us considered whether to bring the debate to a close by moving such a motion. Therefore, it would be of great assistance if you were to inform the Committee, if there were not much time left to debate these provisions and those that follow, what your practice would be if you were to have such a motion before you.
That comes within the area of hypothesis. I cannot answer hypothetical questions.On the subject of closures generally, if a closure motion is moved, the Chairman uses his discretion whether to accept it.