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Business Of The House

Volume 957: debated on Thursday 9 November 1978

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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 13TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Bill. Proceedings on the Pensioners Payments Bill.

TUESDAY 14TH NOVEMBER—Motions on EEC documents S/763/78, S/911/78 and addendum 1 on enlargement, on R/1277/77 and R/1131/78 on display and pricing of foodstuffs and on R/236/78 on groundwater pollution.

WEDNESDAY 15TH NOVEMBER—Supply [1st Allotted Day]: debate on a motion to take note of developments in the European Communities January to June 1978, Command No. 7361. Motion on EEC document R/1123/78 on mutual assistance.

THURSDAY 16TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Estate Agents Bill. Motion on the Assistance for House Purchase and Improvement (Variation of Subsidy) Order. Motion on EEC document on R/511/78 on misleading and unfair advertising.

FRIDAY 17TH NOVEMBER—Debate on the report of the Royal Commission on civil liability and compensation for personal injury, Command No. 7054.

MONDAY 20TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Companies Bill.

May I put one or two points to the Leader of the House? First, can he say when the Boundary Commission's report on European constituencies will be available? It was expected in October but has not been published.

Secondly, can he say what is the present state of the strikes affecting this House? He will know that the public find it impossible to get copies of Bills which may affect the way in which they conduct their business. We shall have the Companies Bill shortly, and companies simply cannot obtain copies unless hon. Members send them or unless members of the public come here for them.

Thirdly, when are we to have a debate on the European monetary system? It seems that decisions are close at hand and there has been precious little debate officially in the House and practically no official documentation from the Government on the very big issues at stake and whether we go in or stay out.

I certainly appreciate the importance of all the points that the right hon. Lady has raised. On her second question concerning the hold-up of papers I fully acknowledge the great inconvenience that has been caused to the House and to members of the public resulting from the industrial dispute in Her Majesty's Stationery Office publishing and bookselling activities section which has been continued since the beginning of September. Every effort is being made to overcome it. I fully acknowledge what the right hon. Lady has said and I certainly hope that it will be brought to an end as soon as possible.

The Boundary Commission's report and the draft order will be laid before the House as soon as possible. I hope that it may be next week.

Regarding the third question, about a debate on the European monetary system, the Government have already given an undertaking to the House that we shall have such a full debate before any decisions are taken. I cannot give the House the exact date now, but I agree that it should be very soon.

I have always believed in the cock-up rather than the conspiracy theory of history. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the business for next week? It seems that the EMS debate is now likely to take place, unintentionally, after the decisions have been taken. When the General Sub-Committee, or some members of it, yesterday visited the Commission in Brussels, we were told that the crucial decisions were likely to be taken on Monday, 20th November at a meeting of the Council of Finance Ministers. If that is true, we ought to have the debate this coming week.

Apart from the two theories to which my hon. Friend has referred, there is also the misapprehension theory. I think he is under the misapprehension that the decision will be made before the debate.

That is not so. We shall have the debate before the decisions.

On the assumption that the Treasury minute will be published within the next 14 days, can the Leader of the House tell us how soon thereafter he thinks we shall be able to have a day for a debate on the reports of the Public Accounts Committee?

Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman remember the several occasions on which a wish has been expressed by both sides of the House that more time should be allocated whenever possible for debates on reports of Select Committees? As the Government do not have as heavy a timetable and programme as is sometimes the case, will he see whether he can allocate more time to this purpose now—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and, in particular, to a debate upon the report which many of us, inside and outside the House, regard as being of fundamental importance—the report of the Select Committee on Procedure?

I said last week in response to a question that I regarded the report of the Select Committee on Procedure as a major report to the House, and, of course, there must be a full debate upon it. I hope that we shall have a debate on the subject before Christmas.

As to the first of the other matters mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, I hope that I may be able to make at any rate, a reference to it in the Business Statement next week, although I do not absolutely guarantee it. Of course, I have taken into account also the representations that he and others have made for fuller opportunities for debates on these subjects. I have also to take account of the representations that he and others have made for fuller and earlier debates on many questions affecting EEC business. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that in next week's business I am helping to fulfil that obligation.

With regard to the Pensioners Payments Bill to be debated on Monday night, a Bill which I presume relates to the £10 Christmas increase for pensioners, will my right hon. Friend confirm that if the Government are defeated tonight by the Tories and the minority parties there will be no £10 bonus for pensioners this Christmas?

If in my reply to my hon. Friend I were to give all the reasons why we should not make a mistake about the vote tonight, I should be at the Dispatch Box for many hours on end, but I am glad to confirm the general idea behind my hon. Friend's question.

In view of the publication this week of the "Directory of Paid Public Appointments made by Ministers", which I think has aroused concern in all parts of the House, showing as it does that there are now over 5,600 salaried jobs in the gift of Ministers and over 360 quangos, could we not now have an early debate on the uses and abuses of ministerial patronage?

I should be very happy to have such a debate, although I know that there are many other pressures for debate, and to discuss all the proposed quangos, if that is the proper name for them. But when I arrived at the Department of Employment in 1974 I discovered that some of those who feature in the document were already fixed by the previous Government, and there was no greater collator of so-called quangos than the previous Government.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern in the country about the inability of the House to find time to discuss the question of the export of live animals? As over half the Back-Benchers in the House signed an early-day motion calling for such a debate many months ago, will he now find time for it?

[ That this House considers that the contents of the report by agriculture departments of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that was issued in March 1978 under the title "The Export Trade in Live Animals for Slaughter or Further Fattening" are of great interest and concern to honourable Members of this House, to animal welfare organisations, the farming industry and the general public; and asks Her Majesty's Government to set aside time for an early debate.]

I will look afresh at all the representations that were made on this subject. I know very well that at the end of the last Session many representations were made about it, and I will see what opportunity there may be or whether private Members should seek to claim time for it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Order in Council on remand procedure in Northern Ireland is brought forward as soon as possible for the approval of the House, since it is in the public interest that there should be an early debate upon it?

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about the desirability of having a debate in the House on the subject. That was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he made the statement to the House. We will consider when such an affirmative order can be brought forward.

Will my right hon. Friend provide time soon for a debate on the disgraceful dismissal by the South African Government of Mr. Justice Mostert? Meanwhile, will he express unequivocal condemnation of that dismissal?

I do not believe that That is necessarily a matter which calls for a debate in the House, although hon. Members such as my hon. and learned Friend are fully capable of expressing our views about it, and I certainly share the view which he has expressed.

With regard to Friday's debate on personal injury and civil compensation, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the Government will bring forward in that debate their proposals for compensating slate quarrymen suffering from silicosis?

I cannot guarantee that the Government will bring forward the detailed proposals on that subject in the debate, but, of course, the Government will listen most carefully to the representations that are made on that subject and others in the debate. It would be in order for discussion then. The Government have already given a commitment in the Queen's Speech on this subject, and we have every intention of fulfilling it.

The Lord President will have heard the Prime Minister say earlier how we are controlling prices. I am particularly pleased to hear of the Government's effort to control the price of bread. However, since rail fares are to rise by 10 per cent. in January, will he ask the responsible Minister to control that increase, at least within 5 per cent., which seems to be the magic figure for wages and salaries?

No doubt all these questions of how the Government seek to control prices and how nationalised industries have contributed to that—and they have made a considerable contribution to the solution of the problem—are open for debate in the House this afternoon.

Since it was reported the other day in The Guardian that the Prime Minister is taking a personal interest in the affair of the Select Committee's report on the National Land Fund, may we have an early Government decision and debate on this?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but obviously I am not making any promise about next week.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a full debate during the present Session of Parliament on unemployment? This is one of the country's major problems and there is no evidence that the steps so far taken by the Government are dramatically reducing unemployment.

There are persistently continuing debates in the House at different times, as I am sure my hon. Friend will acknowledge, on different aspects of the unemployment problem. Many of these matters were open for debate during the debates we had on the Queen's Speech, but I will certainly look afresh at the suggestion which my hon. Friend is making that we should have debates on unemployment affecting particular areas. There are some areas, such as Merseyside, which are more deeply and harshly afflicted than almost any other, so I will take into account what my hon. Friend has said.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is now some two years since an inquiry made its pronouncements about the Stroud inner ring road and that I have been promised a decision every month since May? In view of the great inconvenience and expense, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make an announcement during the coming week?

The point about the Stroud motorway had escaped my attention for a moment—I cannot understand how this could have occurred—but I shall discuss it with my right hon. Friend.

In view of the visibly ever-rising tide of EEC legislation, including demands for even more debates, is it not even more important that the Government should discharge their undertaking of 28th November last year to have a debate on the procedure for EEC legislation, particularly in view of the report of the Scrutiny Committee, House of Commons Paper 642, which remarks on the Lord President's withdrawal of the undertaking, and the report of the Select Committee on Procedure on EEC legislation? May we have an early opportunity to deal with this matter?

I freely acknowledge that the House must return afresh to this matter. That was understood when we had references to the subject in July, and the necessity to deal with it has been underlined by the two reports to which my hon. Friend refers. Last week I indicated to the House that I thought that perhaps we should deal with that part of the procedure report in a different way from the rest of the report. I am fully conscious of my hon. Friend's point.

I have a very long list of Members who hope to catch my eye today. There is a statement to follow after business questions, so I propose to take four more Questions from either side and then move on to the statement.

The Leader of the House will recall that during the recess another Select Committee reported on the consequences of oil spillage. I drew this to the right hon. Gentleman's attention and received a courteous reply. He said that he realised the importance of a debate on that report but suggested that we should wait until the Government's comments were available. Will those comments be available before Christmas, and when will a debate follow?

I have nothing further to say to the hon. Gentleman now, but I may be able to make a further statement on the matter next week.

When the Leader of the House has information about the Stationery Office strike, especially about the Boundary Commission report, will he give an early warning to those of us on both sides of the House who are anti-Marketeers so that we can ensure that that very important strike continues? We are thinking of setting up a fighting fund to keep these reports from being produced in order that these gallant men can prevent Britain from being dragged even further into the European mire.

With the best of good will towards my hon. Friend, I must say that I feel we have enough industrial strikes affecting the supply of documents to the House without any assistance from him.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that debates on the report of the Select Committee on Procedure take place before the Government publish their findings on that report? This is essentially a matter for the House of Commons, and all hon. Members want to express their views. As some of the recommendations are fundamental and controversial, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it may be necessary for such a debate to stretch over more than one day?

I am not sure about the length of time that should be allocated, but I fully concur with what the hon. Gentleman said during the first part of his remarks—indeed, I think I said as much last week.

In view of the Bingham report, it is not even more urgent that the House should pay serious attention to its own procedures, with capacity to scrutinise the activitives or non-activities of the Executive, and will my right hon. Friend make this the top priority in formulating the business of the House before Christmas?

I repeat to my hon. Friend what I have already said to the House as a whole. I do not deny that this is a report of major importance, and obviously the House will want a full opportunity to discuss it. As my hon. Friend has just indicated, the best way may be for the House to discuss it before the Government reach any conclusions. I believe that that is the right way to proceed.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the House has a chance to debate the findings of the Select Committee's report on the National Land Fund before any decision is taken to reject it?

We have to watch these matters closely. If it were the practice that all reports had to be discussed before Governments gave their views, I believe that we would make the procedures of the House extraordinarily cumbersome in many respects. I do not believe that it would be for the convenience of the House. There are special occasions when reports such as the procedure report should be subject to a debate before the Government have presented their view, but I do not believe that it is normally the best practice to have debates on reports on which the Government have not expressed any opinion.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on early-day motion no. 33 relating to the coal industry in Wales—or, if not specifically on the coal industry, may we have a general energy debate?

[ That this House, mindful of the essential part which the coal industry plays in the energy requirements of the United Kingdom, deplores the proposal to close further pits in South Wales other than those exhausted; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government with all its powers to sustain and protect the industry as a vital part of its energy policy.]

I accept the importance of the subject raised by my hon. Friend, and I am certainly aware of the considerable concern in South Wales on the subject, although I see that my hon. Friend is raising this subject himself in an Adjournment debate next week.

Since there is a growth in the number of criminals who are prepared to use guns to shoot down people in order to escape arrest—I suggest that there has been a considerable increase in the number of murders recently—will the Lord President give time for an early debate on the whole question of capital punishment?

I do not believe that that is the best way for the House to proceed. The House of Commons made its view clear during the previous debate and decision on the matter. I do not believe that there is a requirement for another such debate.

Will my right hon. Friend bring forward a motion next week, which is a rather busy week, to give the House an opportunity to remove from all Select Committees those hon. Members who are Ministers, because they are clearly in no position to do the job that this House expects them to do?

I do not agree with what my hon. Friend said about the composition of Select Committees. Indeed, in the case which occurred this week the member of that Select Committee is just as able to perform his functions on it during the coming week as he has in the past week. I do not, therefore, believe that any such question arises.


On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House, in answer to my earlier question, referred to misapprehensions. I have been out of the Chamber to check with the local office of the European Commission and I am again informed by that office that the Council of European Finance Ministers will meet on 20th November—not after, but before the debate. As I understand it, that is the occasion when the crucial decisions will be taken.

Further to that point of order. My hon. Friend most uncharacteristically has again misapprehended the situation. There is no proposal that there should be a decision at that meeting. Therefore, the undertaking that I gave to the House is absolutely clear. The debate will take place in this House before there is any decision.