Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th March 1977.

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Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 28TH MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Statement on the Defence Estimates.

Remaining stages of the General Rate (Public Utilities) Bill [Lords], and of the Marriage (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Motion on ECC Dcuments Com.(76)660, S/102/77, R/616/77, S/232/77 and R/388/77 on fishery resources.

TUESDAY 29TH MARCH—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget.

EEC Documents R/566/77 and R/567/77 on economic policy guidelines will be relevant.

At 7 o'clock the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed Private Business for consideration.

Proceedings on the Agricultural Holdings (Notices to Quit) Bill [Lords], and on the British Airways Board Bill [Lords], which are consolidation measures.

WEDNESDAY 30TH MARCH and THURSDAY 31ST MARCH—Continuation of the Budget debate.

At the end of Wednesday, debate on the Chairman of Ways and Means' ruling of 10th February.

FRIDAY 1ST APRIL—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 4TH APRIL—Conclusion of the Debate on the Budget Statement.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

Will the Leader of the House tell us when the White Paper on direct elections will be published? As he knows, there is a debate on this subject tomorrow, and it would be helpful if we could have it by then. Is the White Paper already in print, and will it come through unchanged?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I am glad to assure the right hon. Lady on the second point—no alterations are required to the White Paper. It will be published next week, and I am sorry that it cannot be published in time for tomorrow's debate.

Photo of Mr Leslie Spriggs Mr Leslie Spriggs , St Helens

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 257 headed "St. Helen's Trades Council"? Will he give the House an opportunity to debate that council's resolutions about a policy for ending rising unemployment, by introducing selective import controls, strict price controls and associated measures?

[That this House welcomes the St. Helens Trades Council resolution in which it is stated that the people of St. Helens, in order to stop rising unemployment, urge the Labour Government to implement the following policy, namely, the introduction of selective import controls; strict control over the prices of essential items in working class family budgets; lowering of interest rates and the control of export capital; raising of consumption by increasing pensions, social insurance benefits and Social public expenditure; a shorter working week; extension of statutory and annual holidays; the reduction and elimination of overtime and a fair basic wage for all; and which urges that the Labour Government honour its last election manifesto by implementing 'Clause 4' of the Labour Party constitution.]

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I have seen the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) and some of his hon. Friends. All the issues that he has mentioned will be relevant in the Budget debates which begin next week.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Does the Leader of the House expect the statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment on the Government's inner city policies to be given to the House next week?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I do not know. I shall let the right hon. Gentleman know when I find out.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

Now that we have got over the immediate difficulty of last night, may I urge the Leader of the House seriously to have discussions next week with both political parties in order to stop this stupidity of having to drag in sick Members to vote? As every elector in the country has the right to a proxy vote if he or she is indisposed or sick, is it not possible to introduce the same system and to give sick hon. Members a vote by proxy? If the Prime Minister can make a deal with the Liberal Party, surely all parties can get together and announce next week that no sick Member will have to come into the House to vote if he does not want to and that the House will facilitate his voting by proxy?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I recognise that there is strong sympathy for this proposal in many parts of the House. The same question was raised some months ago when we had similar problems and anxieties. We did have some discussions between the usual channels then, but no real agreement was reached.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Although I have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend says, there are more problems associated with proxy voting than his question suggests.

Photo of Mr Michael Grylls Mr Michael Grylls , Surrey North West

Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week or arrange for a debate on the new joint consultative committee of the Labour and Liberal Parties? What is the constitution of this committee, who are the members and will its minutes be published? We want to know what it is all about.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

The matter was before the House for general debate yesterday and the House gave a substantial majority to the proposals presented to it. I am sure the hon. Member has taken that into account. All those who are concerned will be able to see what is happening, and I am glad that the hon. Member is hoping to see this experiment develop fruitfully.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

In view of tit:, fact that the Leicester city housing committee, along with other Tory-dominated housing committees throughout the country, is cutting council housing by 50 per cent., in spite of the fact that Leicester is a housing stress area, could we have a debate on how we could have some control over local authorities' ability to destroy the rights of ordinary people to get homes?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I fully acknowledge the importance of that matter. I cannot promise a debate next week, but these questions will arise when we have a more general discussion of housing matters.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

As the orders relating to direct labour lapse on 31st March, will the right hon. Gentleman say what the Government intend to do about those orders and the proposed legislation on local authority work forces?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

No doubt the hon. Gentleman heard the Prime Minister's statement yesterday. The Government propose to proceed with a Bill to assist in dealing with that problem. I cannot say exactly when that Bill will be introduced, but I hope that it will be fairly soon.

Photo of Mr Hamish Watt Mr Hamish Watt , Banffshire

Will the Leader of the House say when the devolution Bill relating to Scotland is to be reintroduced—or should I ask somebody in the Liberal Party for an answer?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

We shall be having discussions, as I indicated to the hon. Gentleman and representatives of his party, about how we proceed in dealing with this subject. The Government are determined to ensure that a Bill in some form or other is brought again before the House. Fortunately, because of the fact that the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) and his party were defeated in the Lobbies last night, the House will now have every opportunity to proceed on these lines.

Photo of Mr Ian Wrigglesworth Mr Ian Wrigglesworth , Teesside Thornaby

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us are appalled at the apparent ambivalence among the Opposition in their immigration policy as demonstrated this afternoon? Therefore, will he arrange an early debate on this subject so that we can discover whether the policies enunciated by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and by his right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) are the official Opposition policies, or whether the policies of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition are the official policies of the Opposition?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

My hon. Friend has put the point in his remarks even more effectively than I could have put it in my reply. I am sure that the House will wait to hear the answer.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

When the right hon. Gentleman replied to last night's debate he said that the agreement with the Liberals was not a Lib-Lab pact. Will he make a statement next week describing the difference between the two?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the whole of my speech. He will see there set out what I believe the agreement means. The words are perfectly simple. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is as capable as anybody else of understanding that passage in my speech.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Hammersmith Fulham

In view of the pleasure given to everybody by yesterday's proceedings and the desire among the Opposition for further information, may we have another censure debate soon, please?

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Waltham Forest Chingford

May I thank the Lord President for his remarks a few moments ago underlining the perils of proxy voting in this House? May I also ask him to consider whether something more should be said on the subject of the expiry of orders under the Local Government Act 1972 which gives certain powers to 25 local authorities to use direct labour forces? May we have a statement next week making plain what will happen between the expiry of those orders and the enactment of whatever new measures the Government propose to bring forward?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I shall examine the most appropriate way to give that information to the hon. Gentleman and to the House. In reply to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) about motions of no confidence, that remedy does not lie in my hands. I shall exert all my influence on the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition to ensure that that happens.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great concern in Aberdeen at the proposals to limit the number of fishing vessels in the Faröes fishing grounds? Will he undertake to make a statement next week and to debate the whole issue of fishing?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I understand my hon. Friend's anxieties. These matters might be in order in Monday's debate, although I cannot be sure. I am sure that my hon. Friend will make inquiries on that point.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

As long ago as 20th January the Lord President said that he hoped to have an early debate on broadcasting the proceedings of the House. When is that "early debate" likely to take place?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I cannot promise a debate next week, but I shall see that we have an opportunity to proceed on that matter. The Government wish to ensure that we move nearer to broadcasting the proceedings of the House.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Stirlingshire West

If I may revert to the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), may we have an early debate on Early-Day Motion No. 259, which is a motion of no confidence in the Leader of the Opposition, bearing in mind the excessive sum in public expenditure, amounting to more than £13,500 per year, received by the right hon. Lady in salary for a job that she is clearly incapable of doing, as was amply demonstrated by her pathetic performance yesterday, resulting in the resounding defeat of her equally pathetic motion?

[That this House has no confidence in the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition.]

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

It would be most ungallant of me to reply to that comment.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the notes on the Order Paper relating to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments relating to European Community documents? Is he aware that evidence given to the Joint Committee last Tuesday by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not available because it is not yet printed? In view of the circumstances, will he agree to postpone the matter to another occasion?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

There is some difficulty involved in a postponement but I shall examine the point.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I wish to indicate that I propose from now on to call only those hon. Gentlemen who have tried to catch my eye so far during business questions.

Photo of Mr Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler Mr Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler , North West Norfolk

Has the Lord President noted the continued progress of Early-Day Motion No. 222 which stands in my name and which has now received the support of 335 right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House? In those circumstances, noting the considerable support for a debate on the establishment of a Select Committee for Foreign Affairs, will the right hon. Gentleman now reverse his decision of a few weeks ago and give the House an early opportunity to debate this subject?

[That this House, dissatisfied with the infrequency and nature of debates on Foreign Affairs, urges the Government to set up a Standing Foreign Affairs Select Committee whose Reports should be debated in the House within 30 days of publication.]

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I cannot promise a debate in the near future, because up to Easter the time of the House is pretty full. I cannot see any chance before Easter of having such a debate. I cannot promise that it will be debated at an early stage afterwards because we have some important business at that time, too. However, I do not rule out such a debate altogether. This proposal has been put forward on a number of occasions over many years. The Opposition might wish to raise the subject at some time. However, I know that they also would have some difficulty in fitting in this matter before Easter.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is grave consternation among education authorities at all levels and on the part of those who are interested in education at the vulgar, cruel and appallingly biased film shown on BBC television this week? Because of the concern aroused by that film and the appalling lapse in standards on the part of the BBC, does not this matter merit a debate in the House?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I make no comment on the form of the film itself because I have not seen it. No doubt my hon. Friend's judgment is likely to be correct. However, it would be wrong for the Government to embark on any process of censorship of the BBC or any other channel.

Photo of Mr Douglas Henderson Mr Douglas Henderson , Aberdeenshire East

Will the right hon. Gentleman be in a position next week to make a statement on the pact or agreement with the unionist Labour wing of his own party, 40 of whom destroyed the progress on the devolution Bill on 22nd February since, without such a pact or agreement, that Bill has not a snowball's chance in hell of getting through the House?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

It is perfectly true that we experienced some difficulties with some of my hon. Friends with regard to the guillotine, but we had very much more difficulty from the official Opposition, with whom the hon. Gentleman was associated so closely in the Division last night. I am sure that on reflection, in the sober morning, if I may put it that way, the hon. Gentleman is highly gratified that he lost last night, because we can live to have this Bill another day.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

Will the Leader of the House, as the Leader of the whole House, state whether he is prepared to refer to Mr. Speaker the question of representation for the whole of the country at some time or is he prepared to refer only representation of Northern Ireland? Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he will be prepared to make a statement?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I do not think there is any purpose in having such a general reference, but the Prime Minister and I announced last night that we would agree to the reference about Northern Ireland. We are certainly preparing a statement to be made on that subject.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

Are these both contained in the same rule or are the Government proposing to refer only a part of the rule to a Speaker's Conference?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Since the right hon. Lady has raised the matter in that form I shall certainly have another look at what I said, but my understanding is that it is perfectly possible for the question of representation of Northern Ireland to be referred to the Speaker's Conference. As indicated in the debates that we had on this matter a few weeks ago, the Government have taken the view that they do not believe that this is the moment to refer the whole general question to the Speaker's Conference.

Photo of Mr Thomas Urwin Mr Thomas Urwin , Houghton-le-Spring

Can my right hon. Friend indicate how soon the Prime Minister expects to receive the report, which he commissioned from the NEB two or three weeks ago, about the proposal for Plessey to shed 4,000 jobs in the telecommunications industry in areas of high unemployment such as Wearside and Merseyside? Can my right hon. Friend further guarantee that there will be a debate on the Floor of the House when the report is received, not only on this issue but also on the whole future of developments in the telecommunications industry?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I certainly accept that the matter is one of great importance. That is why the Prime Minister took action on the very day of the announcement. I am not sure how soon the report will be available but I shall see whether I can indicate to my hon. Friend when it will be available. When it is available I believe that there will have to be some discussion, or at any rate some means by which the matter is examined in the House.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

Is it not rather urgent for the Liberal Party to get on and redraft the direct labour Bill because after 31st March the orders will lapse and the local authorities engaging in that direct labour will be liable to surcharge?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I have already promised the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) that I shall look at this and see whether it is desirable for a statement to be made on this subject. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's question has added anything to what was said before.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 208 which stands in my name and the names of 129 hon. Members from all sides of the House concerning the reintroduction of the Seat Belts Bill?

[That this House, recognising the prospect of Government time being available in the near future, requests the reintroduction of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill, which received, in the last session of this Parliament, a second reading by a majority of one hundred and ten on a free vote, completed its committee stage, and which should prevent a thousand deaths and ten thousand injuries from road accidents each year.]

This is an urgent measure which has already received a Second Reading in this Parliament, and I believe the Government should now find time for it.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I fully understand that there are many hon. Members who attach great importance to that Bill, and it is true that the Bill received a Second Reading. That is known to the House, but it is also known that a number of hon. Members who strongly opposed the Bill were exercising their rights as well, and that fact has also to be taken into account.

Photo of Mr Michael Marshall Mr Michael Marshall , Arundel

Leaving aside the squalid deal which received a great deal of criticism on all sides of the House yesterday, may I ask the Leader of the House to regard as serious the question when the consultative committee's proceedings will be made known to the House? Does he agree that this is a pre-legislative scrutiny committee? Is not this an important question in the context of the study which is supposed to be in hand on how the House, through the Procedure Committee, will look at these matters in future? Have we not preempted this kind of development and will the Leader of the House give a serious answer to this important question?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I would be more encouraged to give the hon. Gentleman serious answers if he put his question in a courteous manner. I do not expect to answer any hon. Gentleman who starts off in the manner in which the hon. Gentleman started. I do not think that there is any requirement on the Government to make a fresh statement on the matter but, of course, the discussions that take place are bound to have their influence on the way in which the House does its business. We are not doing anything that is outside the normal method of discussion on these matters, and I believe that it could be of benefit to the House as a whole in these circumstances.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Mr. Stanbrook, last question.

Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Bromley Orpington

In view of the interest in the size of the queue of immigrant dependants waiting to enter this country, and the need to avoid the making of one-sided party political points on this delicate subject, will the Leader of the House please provide facilities for an early debate on the Franks Report on a register of dependants?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I cannot promise any early debate on the matter but certainly the House should have a chance of considering this matter. I think it is right that this question should be discussed in as calm a manner as possible. That is the way in which the Prime Minister replied to this question.