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Business Of The House

Volume 951: debated on Thursday 15 June 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 19TH JUNE—Supply [22nd Allotted Day]: debate on the Royal Navy.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates' Courts Bill [ Lords], and of any that may be received to the Co-operative Development Agency Bill.

TUESDAY 20TH JUNE—Motions on Northern Ireland orders relating to companies, payments for debt, planning, pollution control, education, licensing and matrimonial causes.

WEDNESDAY 21ST JUNE—Supply [23rd Allotted Day]: debate on housing.

Second Reading of the Parliamentary Pensions Bill.

THURSDAY 22ND JUNE—Supply [24th Allotted Day]: debates on the mismanagement of Scotland's oil, and afterwards on the need for a balanced economic order for Wales. These topics have been chosen by the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.

Motion on the General Practice Finance Corporation (Increase of Borrowing Powers) Order.

FRIDAY 23RD JUNE—Remaining stages of the Homes Insulation Bill and of the Iron and Steel (Amendment) Bill.

Motion on EEC documents on the European Foundation and cultural sector, Nos. COM(77)600, R/325/78, R/ 734/78, R/774/78 and R/2982/77.

MONDAY 26TH JUNE—Supply [25th Allotted Day]: the subject for debate to be announced.

As the Government appear to have run short of business, may I put two points to the Lord President? First, he will recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) has frequently asked about a merchant shipping Bill, which the Lord President said is ready to be introduced. Has he decided not to introduce it before the Summer Recess? Secondly, I notice that there is one new Bill this week. Will there be any other new Bills? For example, have the Government taken a decision not to reintroduce dividend restraint? Therefore, are we not going to have a Bill?

With regard to the second matter, I think that we should see how we proceed, but we have no proposal for bringing such a Bill forward at the moment.

With regard to the merchant shipping Bill, I have made it clear on a number of occasions that although we strongly favour this Bill, and although we have a Bill prepared, it is an extensive Bill and if we were to introduce it into the House, it would take up a considerable amount of parliamentary time.

Contrary to the right hon. Lady's original assumption, it is not the case that we have a great deal of time on our hands. There is a great deal of legislation, which the Prime Minister indicated last night—I am sure to the general satisfaction of the House—and we propose to carry through all that legislation during this Session.

With regard to the business for the middle part of next week, which is dictated by the Opposition, has the fact that it is fairly slack and low key anything at all to do with the proposed Conservative Members' attendance at Royal Ascot? Do we not every year go through this charade when Parliament takes the middle part of this week off while exhorting the rest of the country to stay hard at work?

Never having been to Ascot myself—and I am not likely to be there next week-I do not think I should comment on that matter. But I assure the House that we do not regard the business for Wednesday as being a matter of insignificance in any sense at all. There is to be a debate on housing, a very important question, to be followed by a debate on the Parliamentary Pensions Bill, which is also of some interest to the House.

Order. May I remind the House that to follow there are two three-hour debates, which arouse a great deal of interest? I would be grateful if questions could be brief and quick.

With regard to Northern Ireland business on Tuesday, will the Lord President see that the items are so arranged that there is ample time for the debate on the matrimonial causes and that if any of these items have to be taken at a late hour, they are those on which there is relatively little debate and which are matters of comparatively less importance?

I certainly hope that we shall be able to approach all the debates, including the measure referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, in that manner.

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a short debate on Early-Day Motion No. 472 so that hon. Members on this side of the House can have the opportunity of inviting the Leader of the Opposition to dismiss the chairman of the Conservative Party, who in his other capacity outside this House as chairman of Pirelli has been involved in an illegal price-fixing ring, ripping off millions of pounds from the Post Office and is now being forced to pay it back?

[ That this House notes that the Chairman of the Conservative Party is also Chairman of Pirelli Limited, a firm found to have participated in an illegal price fixing ring; and calls upon the Chairman of the Conservative Party to keep his mouth firmly shut on the issues of law and order, morality and public expenditure and in the forthcoming General Election.]

Order. Was the hon. Gentleman referring to a Member of another place? If he was, it is as much out of order to criticise a Member of another place as it is a Member of this place.

In answer to you, Mr. Speaker, I would draw your attention to the words of Early-Day Motion No. 472, which have been accepted by the Clerks—

Order. I must explain to the hon. Gentleman that when that matter comes to be discussed he may make reference to it, but not until it is being discussed.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) to be allowed to make those remarks and not to be required to withdraw them?

Did the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) make a reflection upon the honour of a Member of another place?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes"]—Would the hon. Gentleman like to rise and tell me whether he did?

I simply repeated the words in the Early-Day Motion, which is on the Order Paper of the House of Commons. If it is on the Order Paper of the House of Commons, surely it must be in order for me to repeat the words that are used?

I do not have with me the Early-Day Motion which is on the Order Paper. What is not in order is to cast any reflection on the honour of any hon. Member here or in another place. I am assuming that the hon. Gentleman, by his attitude, is not implying any reflection on the honour of a Member of another place.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It was within the hearing of all of us in the House that the hon. Gentleman referred to the noble Lord as being involved in an illegal rip off. That is a matter which quite clearly would reflect upon the honour of the noble Lord. Therefore, it seems quite clear that the hon. Gentleman is under an obligation, as you said, to withdraw that type of remark.

Quite clearly it is my duty, if a reflection is cast on the honour of an hon. Member of this House or the other place, to ask for it to be withdrawn. That is my obligation and the House expects me to do it. What is more, any hon. Member who had a reflection cast on him would be one of the first to ask me to do it. I invite the hon. Member for Perry Barr to withdraw it.

Mr. Speaker. I am in some difficulty, because—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw".]—That is the last thing I intend to do. I am in some difficulty, because I was informed that if one wishes to reflect on the character of an hon. Member of this House or another place one must do it in a substantive motion. I took advice and, therefore, reworded the Early-Day Motion in accordance with the rules of the House. Therefore, I can see no reason whatever to withdraw what I did in conjunction with the Clerks.

Quite clearly, the hon. Member has not understood what I said earlier. It would be in order for him to make statements if the motion were being discussed. It is not being discussed. I have asked the hon. Member to withdraw, and I must now require him to do so.

The hon. Member cannot be in any difficulty if he withdraws that statement reflecting on the honour of a Member of the other House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that you will appreciate that there is some difficulty about this matter. Apparently, my hon. Friend is empowered to write what he feels on the Order Paper but is not allowed to say it in the House of Commons. I think that it is important that we should maintain the proper relations between the two Houses. That is why I urged my hon. Friend to withdraw, and I am glad that he did so. Nevertheless, I think that you will agree that this is a most unsatisfactory way in which the matter is left.

I understood the hon. Member for Perry Barr to say that the chairman had participated in an illegal price ring. That is not what the Order Paper says. The Order Paper says that the firm has participated—[Interruption.] Order. We had better get back to business questions.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Without wishing to go back, now that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), as far as we can ascertain, has withdrawn, although it was a somewhat equivocal withdrawal, can you give the House some guidance? Is it not deeply disturbing that a substantial number of Government supporters, with certain political tendencies, who sit below the Gangway are never willing to play by the discipline and rules of this House, a fact which continually bedevils our proceedings?

Order. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) named no individual. Let me say this to the House. It all depends on which side of the House the issue happens to arise where the indignation will lie. I advise the House that we should now leave this and get on with business questions, or I shall have to cut business questions short.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As an illustration of the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, we have just heard my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) referring to a noble Lord who is simultaneously chairman of the Conservative Party and chairman of a company which is referred to specifically in the motion and, therefore, any aspersion was limited entirely to that. But we have also heard in the last few moments another hon. Member speak of certain political tendencies which he alleges are displayed by some Government supporters who will not abide by the rules. Mr. Speaker, can you quote me one example where hon. Members on this side of the House, sitting below or above the Gangway, have not abided by the rules, and will you ask the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) to withdraw?

These exchanges are getting us nowhere. I suggest that we now get back to business questions.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he has seen yesterday's Select Committee report on the National Land Fund? If he has not, will he read it, and will he arrange for a statement next week on the Government's views on this important report and an early debate?

I shall look at the report in the normal way and see what is the proper time for a Government statement.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the matter which I have raised before on business questions about the future airports policy of the Government? When may we have a debate about it?

I cannot promise anything next week, obviously. However, since my hon. Friend has raised the matter again, I shall certainly look at it and get in touch with him about when a statement can be made to the House.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services to come to the House today or at the latest tomorrow to report on the situation facing the London hospitals and the threatened closure of the 12 major teaching hospitals in London as a result of a proposed strike by the electricians' and plumbers' union on Sunday night? Does he appreciate that some of the serious consequences which would flow from such a strike might involve the evacuation of some of these major hospitals, each with more than 1,000 patients, which must result in many deaths occurring? It is a matter of major importance, and we must hear from the Secretary of State.

I shall, of course, look at the question and see whether it is advisable that the Secretary of State should come to the House and make a statement.

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 434 calling for a ban on the export of live farm animals for slaughter? Can we have an early debate on the matter?

[ That this House believes that the export of live farm animals for slaughter or further fattening should cease.]

That request has been made before by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. There is widespread interest in the matter, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is also seriously concerned about it. I cannot give a specific date for a debate. However, we shall consider afresh these representations.

In view of the fact that deliberations on both the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill are soon to be completed in another place, may we expect an early announcement from the Government about their deliberations on the various anomalies which will apply to the 40 per cent. minimum requirement in the referendums?

The Government will examine all the recommendations made by another place about these matters and we shall bring the Government's views on them to the House in the normal fashion. Of course, it is our determination that the Bills should be on the statute book before the end of this Session. I hope that occasionally before that date we shall have some assistance from the hon. Lady.

In view of the fact that the debate next Wednesday is confined purely to housing on an Opposition Supply Day and in view of the fact that the employers' federation for the building industry has now launched a campaign against the nationalisation of the building industry—which the Labour Party is not proposing—may we have a debate in this House at the earliest possible moment on the future of the construction industry which will enable hon. Members like myself, who help to draw up Labour's plans, to explain precisely what those plans are and to answer the nonsense coming from the employers' federation and from the Opposition about this matter?

Certainly that would be an admirable subject for a separate debate. But I hope that that will not deter my hon. Friend and others from raising some of these matters when we have the debate next Wednesday.

As the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has not raised it this week, may I raise the subject of immigration? Will the Leader of the House say when we are likely to debate the Select Committee report on race relations and immigration? Before the right hon. Gentleman says that this can be taken in Opposition time, will he perhaps give an example of when a Select Committee report has had to be debated in Opposition time? Are not these matters usually dealt with in Government time, and does not the Leader of the House feel that he should tell the right hon. Member for Down, South that he is deluding him on immigration in exactly the same way as he did over the Common Market?

The hon. Member has got the situation considerably muddled in his mind. Of course there are occasions when the Opposition choose to have matters which have been brought up by Select Committees debated in their own time, and they are free to do so, or they can debate more general questions which touch upon reports from Select Committees. A lot of the time of the House is available to the Opposition. There is also the fact that sometimes the selection of the subjects which come from Select Committees is made not by the Government but by many of those who serve on the Committees and the Chairmen of those Committees. That must be taken into account as well. I hope that the hon. Member will consider all those factors before making any criticism of the Government in this respect.

As the House of Commons (Administration) Bill completed its Committee stage some time ago, will my right hon. Friend say when we shall have Report and Third Reading?

I hope that I shall be able to make an announcement next week about the time of proceeding with the Bill. I agree with the implication of my hon. Friend's remarks that we must do everything that we can to get that Bill on the statute book this Session.

As the Government have some problem in raising money, could we have a debate on the question of the manipulation of the gilt-edged market which at the moment is being turned into a casino by the activities of the Government? I think that we might have an interesting debate on how the Government propose to increase the national debt even further, as they have doubled it in the past four years.

That is a completely irresponsible way of raising this important question. The right hon. Gentleman is only revealing his own wounds caused by the Opposition's difficulty in raising votes compared with the comparative ease the Government have had in raising money.

Is the Lord President aware of the growing bitterness among firemen because they feel that they have been double-crossed by their employers in implementing the settlement of the dispute earlier this year? Could he arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House on this matter next week?

I doubt very much whether a statement can be made in that way. I have read the discussions that are proceeding on this question. I doubt whether the best way to proceed at this moment is either by a statement or by discussion in the House. We want to see a full settlement, of course, in the light of the agreement that was reached some months ago.

Will the Lord President take note of Early-Day Motion No. 464 dealing with the stationing of United States tanker aircraft in the Cotswolds? It appears that the Ministry of Defence has been providing some highly misleading statistics about these aircraft and their characteristics. Could we have a debate next week?

[ That this House, whilst mindful of its loyalty to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and to its friendship with the United States of America, nevertheless deplores Her Majesty's Government's proposal to base KC 135 tanker aircraft of the American Air Force in the Cotswolds, whether at Fairford or Brize Norton, bearing in mind the exceptionally noisy and pollutant characteristics of this aircraft, the consequent harm which will be caused to an area of outstanding natu- ral beauty and high population, and also that the Lincolnshire County Council supported by right honourable and honourable Members of this House are willing to receive these aircraft into their area, which has different environmental and employment conditions; and expresses the hope that Her Majesty's Government will decide against any solution which will do violence to the serenity of the Cotswolds and may result in damage to Anglo-American relations.]

There is no possibility of a debate on that matter next week, unless the Opposition raise it. I certainly cannot accept what the hon. Member says about statements from the Ministry of Defence.

Since there has been disquiet over the way in which the Scrutiny Committee recommends matters for debate and the undertakings of the Government in that respect, will the Lord President tell the House when he will bring forward a motion which will put these matters as a resolution of the House?

Nobody knows better than my hon. Friend the obligation that I have on that subject. I am committed in the way that I stated to the House when we had a debate on this matter. On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, although I have often acknowledged the difficulties in dealing with these matters, my hon. Friend should acknowledge that the Government have sought to bring these matters before the House, especially in the light of the recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee.

When the Leader of the House feels that the House needs a quiet, interesting, slightly academic but very important day's debate, will he consider enabling us to debate the Lords Scrutiny Committee report on the abuse by the Community of Article 100 of the Treaty of Rome relating to the approximation of laws? This is academic but it is very important.

I shall look at this matter in the same good-tempered way as that in which the hon. Member has raised it.

In view of the disturbing features connected with road casualties, and the equally disturbing feature of the way in which massive new road construction—for example, in Greenford in my constituency—makes a contribution to endangering pedestrians life, will my right hon. Friend consider allowing the House to debate this vet}, serious issue, which is the cause of so much loss of life throughout this country?

I fully acknowledge the seriousness of the matter, but I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate. There are other facilities for raising these questions in the arrangement of the business of the House.

I shall call the three hon. Members who have been getting to their feet all the time, and, of course, the Front Bench.

In order to avoid the necessity of the debate next week for which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) asked, will the Lord President help him and us by coming to the Dispatch Box and saying that the Labour Party has entirely repudiated any suggestion that any part of the building or construction industry will be taken into public ownership? Then we can settle that one. Secondly, will he make the position a little clearer and say whether he actually meant, in reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that there is no intention now of bringing forward a Bill to continue dividend control?

On the second matter I have no statement to make now. The first matter is entirely irrelevant to any question of next week's business.

As it is expected that the Prime Minister and the President of Romania will be signing an agreement on the BALI-11, may I risk boring the right hon. Gentleman by asking him yet again whether and when we can debate the future of the aerospace industry in general and future aircraft purchases of British Airways in particular?

May I also ask him whether he will ensure that, whoever the Minister is who finally decides to be responsible, some member of the Government will come to the Dispatch Box and make a statement of the Government's intention to return to Chile the aero engines which belong to that Government and which have been held in this country against the wishes of their owners for four years? Is he aware that there are serious implications when the British Government defy a court order in this way?

On the second matter, the Government's attitude on this has been fully explained to the House. On the earlier matter that the hon. Member has raised on a number of occasions, I acknowledge and admire his persistence in his questions, and he must acknowledge my persistence in my replies. He puts the same question, and I give him the same reply.

On a non-controversial note, may I ask the Lord President whether, when the Parliamentary Pensions Bill is discussed on Wednesday—about which many Members have serious reservations—it would not be convenient to consider the matter of Members' salaries at the same time?

I do not think it would be desirable or necessary to do this. Of course, we shall consider the question of Members' salaries before the end of this Session. It is perfectly possible for the Parliamentary Pensions Bill to be considered next week, as I have suggested. What we are doing in that Bill is carrying out in full the spirit and the letter of the recommendations that were made by the Royal Commission, and in that spirit the proposals should be accepted by the House.

Could the Leader of the House give a categoric assurance that the Government will resolve their differences in time to publish a White Paper on the report of the Annan Committee on Broadcasting before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

The right hon. Member has been a Member of divided Cabinets much longer than I have. I am a comparative novice in these matters. But I must point out that he has invited me to commit a breach of the Official Secrets Act right here at the Dispatch Box on the very day that we are discussing official secrets. I think that the right hon. Member is asking a bit too much even for him. I am always eager to please him—especially on a day when he is feeling a little dejected. I was searching around for some way in which I could come to the rescue of him and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition but, eager as I am, I am afraid I cannot assist.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We acknowledge that the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) in his Early-Day Motion was difficult for the whole House and for you, Mr. Speaker. However it raised many points, some of which were mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Some of us are now in difficulty. We acknowledge that it is the custom and the practice of the House that if, on business questions, a Member of this House wishes to draw it to the attention of the Lord President, he can enlarge on the Early-Day Motion that he is quoting. Will you be good enough, Mr. Speaker, either tomorrow or early next week, to make a statement to guide us on this matter?

When the exchanges began, I did not have the actual wording of the motion before me. The House will realise that it was supplied to me in the course of the discussions. The difference was that the motion attacks a firm and the hon. Gentleman linked the matter, as I understand it, to an individual. We all understand the rules, and I was obliged to the hon. Member for Perry Barr for withdrawing the comment, as he did at my request.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I, too, wish to return to the matter relating to that Early Day Motion. You have said, Mr. Speaker, that the motion concerns only a firm. But if you examine the last two lines you will see that that is not quite true. It demands of the chairman of the Tory Party various personal actions and casts aspersions upon him. May I seek your ruling whether the motion is properly on the Order Paper at all.

The answer is that it is properly on the Order Paper or it would not be there. Secondly, the various requests to the Chairman of the Conservative Party could be debated on a substantive motion, but there is no such motion before the House.