HC Deb 06 April 1978 vol 947 cc636-46
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President to state the business of the House for next week?

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 10th April—Motions on the National Enterprise Board (Financial Limit) Order and on financial assistance to British Leyland Limited.

Motion on EEC documents R/3069/77 and R/3121/77 on farm structure.

TUESDAY 11th April—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget Statement.

EEC documents R/1721/77, R/2080/77, R/2473/77, COM(77)640, the economic situation annual report, R/654/78 and R/655/78 will be relevant.

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

Motion on EEC documents S/139/77, S/183/78, R/3375/11 and R/513/78 and the supplementary memorandum, on Community textile policy.

WEDNESDAY 12th April and THURSDAY 13th April—Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY 14th April—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 17th April—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement.

Mrs. Thatcher

While recognising that we have some rather significant business next week, may I put two points to the Leader of the House? Will he make time very soon for a day's debate on Rhodesia, in view of the very important statements that are being made on both sides of the Atlantic? It is urgent for us to have a debate on this matter.

Secondly, he will recall that just before the recess he said that soon after we returned there would be a statement on how the Government proposed to proceed on the proposals of the Speaker's Conference on Northern Ireland. When can we expect that statement?

Mr. Foot

I very much hope that a statement will be made to the House next week. I do not know for certain on which day it will be made, but I shall notify the right hon. Lady about this.

On the first matter that she raised, I note the demand for a debate on Rhodesia. I cannot promise it in the immediate future. There was a debate on the subject prior to the recess, but I take note of the request that we should have another at a fairly early date.

Mr. James Lamond

Will my right hon. Friend ask somebody in the Government to make a statement next week about the Government's policy on the neutron bomb, because of the conflicting reports published in the Press, and in view of the great importance of this decision and its impact on the success of the Special Session of the United Nations, which Dr. Waldheim emphasised last night in his speech to Members of this House?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept what my hon. Friend said about the widespread interest in the matter. I am not sure whether we should have a statement next week, but I shall notify members of the Government and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about what my hon. Friend and others have said on the subject.

Sir Frederic Bennett

May I revert to the request of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for a debate on Rhodesia? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that it is not good enough to remind us of the fact that there was an Adjournment debate on this matter before the House rose for the Easter Recess? Does he not appreciate that in almost every country in the world Governments and Parliaments are discussing a matter which is of British concern and for which we have responsibility—a fact of which the Government are constantly reminding us? Therefore, is it not time that this Parliament had the right to say what they think of the Government's handling of this matter?

Mr. Foot

I fully understand what the right hon. Lady said earlier about a request for such a debate, but the hon. Gentleman should not dismiss in such terms the debate that took place earlier. The subject was raised officially by the Opposition, there was a good deal of discussion of it, and it was an important debate. Account must be taken of that factor.

Mr. John Garrett

Will my right hon. Friend make time available to debate the radical report of the Expenditure Committee on the Civil Service and the Government's reactionary reply to it?

Mr. Foot

I might interchange the adjectives used by my hon. Friend. But whatever rearrangement might be made of that character—and obviously the matter must be debated in the House at some stage—we shall have to see what is the most convenient time to hold the debate.

Mr. Hooson

Will the right hon. Gentleman try to make time for a debate on the report of the Royal Commission headed by Lord Pearson about changing the basis of compensation for victims who suffer personal injuries? Does he recollect that during Question Time on this matter the Prime Minister said in answer to a question by me that he thought that it would be a good idea to have a debate this Session? Will the right hon. Gentleman try to facilitate such a discussion?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly examine the proposition. It is right that there should be some time to consider the many important questions in the report. I shall take into account what the hon. and learned Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on the subject.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Will my right hon. Friend allow a short period of time next week to debate an all-party Early-Day Motion No. 356, dealing with the abuse of Press freedom by full-time officials of Plaid Cymru in relation to which the Western Mail in an editorial said that Members of Parliament in this House had been attacked by full-time officials and that signatures had been used which were not the signatures of those who actually signed the letters in question?

[That this House endorses the sentiments expressed in the Western Mail editorial entitled "An abuse of Press freedom", which appeared on Wednesday 5th April 1978, and which contained these words: "The Letters column of a newspaper is not there to be used, with deceit, by a political party in an attempt to further its own ends. But that is what officials of Plaid Cymru have admitted doing. Party employees have been writing letters to the Press (and broadcasting organisations), invariably on topics of current controversy, without declaring that they are, in fact, full-time, paid employees of the party. There are also reports that letters have been written above the signature of people who knew nothing about them (though who do happen to be members of Plaid Cymru). The affair smacks of the sort of dirty-trickery that is one of the less wholesome aspects of American politics. It is a piece of manipulation that shows up those who wrote the letters, and the party itself, in a most unpleasant light. In common with other newspapers, the Western Mail has a set procedure to check the authenticity of contributions to its letter columns. To make our checks any more thorough would be impractical; therefore, a great deal has to be left to trust. It is a trust that has been rather cynically betrayed by Plaid Cymru. They have acted both immorally and dishonourably by insinuating political propaganda in the guise of genuine letters. Mr. Dafydd Williams's protestations yesterday that any attempt to discourage such activity by party employees would be a curb on the freedom of speech is a fatuous attempt at throwing up a smoke screen. It cannot disguise the fact that these letters were a deliberate attempt to mislead a newspaper, and therefore the public …"; and therefore calls upon members of Plaid Cymru who are honourable Members of this House immediately to disassociate themselves from this deceit practised by the General Secretary and other employees of the Party.]

Mr. Foot

I do not think I can promise a debate on the subject in the House next week. I think that it is a matter for the party concerned to make some response about it.

Mrs. Bain

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the future of the Scottish shipbuilding industry, particularly in view of the fact that the Labour candidate at the Garscadden by-election has stated that there will be no redundancies on the Upper Clyde, whereas the Government have refused to endorse that statement?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the hon. Lady will recollect that she and her party voted against the passage of the Bill, the provisions of which now give assistance to Scotland and without which the position would be very much more serious. Therefore, I am not sure whether such a debate would favour her party, but that is no reason why we should never have one.

Mr. Greville Janner

Is my right hon. Friend proposing to give time to introduce legislation to implement the recommendations of the White Paper dealing with company directors' duties, and in particular to create a new duty towards the employees of a company?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise early legislation on the subject, but if my hon. and learned Friend is referring to the much wider question of how we may proceed on the subject of industrial democracy, we should like very much indeed to be able to proceed further in that direction, but we feel that we must have proposals that would carry us forward. We very much doubt whether we could get such proposals through in this Parliament.

Mr. Gow

Since it is now more than seven weeks since Mr. Speaker wrote to the Prime Minister reporting on the almost unanimous recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, why has there been such a long delay in the Government announcing their intentions? Why cannot the Leader of the House say that we shall definitely have a statement on this subject next week?

Mr. Foot

There is every possibility that we shall have the statement next week. Hon. Members will be able to appreciate the reasons why we have chosen this time. I hope that there will be little further delay in making the announcement to the House on the subject.

Mr. Hooley

When will the House have an opportunity to discuss the important subject of the special development order on Windscale and what the extent of that debate will be?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give a promise as to the exact time that it will take place, but I have taken note of Early-Day Motion No. 354 on the subject. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will also be taking note to see how we can take account of the matter.

[That this House welcomes the Secretary of State for the Environment's promise that the recommendations of Mr. Justice Parker, at the end of his Report on the Windscale inquiry, which deal with important steps to improve existing safety arrangements, will all receive the Government's careful attention and will be the subject of a statement, but insists that because of the importance of these recommendations to surrounding areas and to the Isle of Man, that the statement be made in sufficient time to be considered before the House is invited to debate the Special Development Order on Wednesday.]

Mr. Jopling

I am glad to hear that the Leader of the House has seen that motion. Does he realise that the present printing dispute disguises the fact that the motion is supported by virtually all parties in this House, and by distinguished names on his own side? Does he appreciate the importance of the matter, and if he cannot arrange for a statement to be made next week, will he give an undertaking today that the statement will be made before we debate the special development order?

Mr. Foot

I cannot at this moment make a promise of a statement, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government—and especially my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, as he has proved to the House—have taken full account of the opinions expressed in all parts of the House on this subject. I do not believe that there is any hon. Member in any quarter of the House who would deny that the Government and my right hon. Friend have taken special precautions to ensure that the House will be able to give its views on this subject.

Mr. Urwin

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that I sympathise with him in not being able to find time in the foreseeable future to debate the subject of industrial democracy, but can he say when we may expect to receive the White Paper on that subject, a document which was promised some time ago?

Mr. Foot

I know that my hon. Friend and others are awaiting a White Paper on that subject. We are seeking to produce it and to bring it forward as speedily as we can. I know that there has been some delay, but I hope that it will not be much longer.

Mr. Burden

The right hon. Gentleman no doubt will be aware that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has published a report on the export of live animals for slaughter. As there is so much interest in this subject, both in the House and in the country, will he give an undertaking that there will be a debate on that report in the near future?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give an undertaking in the exact form requested by the hon. Gentleman, but I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend and see what approach we can make in the House on the matter.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

On the subject of the neutron bomb, my right hon. Friend will have noticed the attempts on television to bulldoze the Government into taking positive action on this matter. But, in view of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that the Government have no intention of proceeding to a new generation of nuclear weapons, is that not a declaration of the fact that, if the Government have no such intention, they will have nothing whatever to do with the neutron bomb? Will he give the Secretary of State for Defence the opportunity to reaffirm that decision next week?

Mr. Foot

It is true that the Government will not be bulldozed into any decision or attitude on this matter in the way that has been suggested. That was made quite plan by the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence a little earlier this afternoon.

Mr. Pym

Has the Leader of the House anything further to say about the non-appearance of parliamentary papers and, if he cannot make a statement today, will he make another statement early next week?

Mr. Foot

I was very much hoping that I would be able to make a statement to the House today, but I am sorry to have to say that we have not yet made further progress on the matter. I fully appreciate the concern of the House on the subject and I shall see whether on Monday we should make a statement. I do not in any sense minimise the concern of the House on this subject.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The House knows that there is an important statement on immigration to follow. I propose to allow three more minutes on business, and then we must move on.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

May I refer the Lord President to the business which will come on late next Tuesday evening when we are to discuss the EEC documents on textiles? Is he aware that hundreds of people in the textile industry are being made redundant each week because of unfair competition from abroad? Will he ensure that next Tuesday evening the Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for Trade are present in this House when these documents are debated, and will he give an assurance that a debate on textiles in the United Kingdom will be held at an early date?

Mr. Foot

I hope that there will be considerable time for the debate on Tuesday and that it will be of assistance to all hon. Members from textile constituencies who are concerned about this matter. As to which of my right hon. Friends will be responsible for answering the debate, that is another question, but I shall certainly pass on the hon. Gentle man's representations.

Mr. Edward Lyons

In view of the brutal and terrifying announcement by Thorn Consumer Electronics directors yesterday of firm proposals to close their Bradford television factories, with a loss of 2,200 jobs, in order to concentrate production in the South-East, will my right hon. Friend give time for a debate on this issue, particularly in relation to the laughing stock it makes of Government regional policy and in relation to the devastating effects on employment in Bradford and West Yorkshire?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an immediate debate on this subject, but I fully acknowledge the concern that my hon. and learned Friend has expressed and no doubt he and others of my hon. Friends will be making representations to the Government on the subject and we shall see how we can proceed from there.

Mr. Tim Renton

Bearing in mind the wishes of many of the right hon. Gentleman's parliamentary colleagues to abolish the House of Lords, does he agree that it is important for the House to know the views of the Government on the role and revising power of the Second Chamber? Will he therefore find time for a debate on this issue?

Mr. Foot

There are many things that we cannot do next week and one of them is to abolish the House of Lords, so we shall have to leave that over to a later date.

Mr. Flannery

I know that there is to be a statement today on the Select Committee's report concerning race relations and immigration, but, in view of the very great worries of the black and brown communities in this country, especially since the hardening of attitude by the Leader of the Opposition on this subject, will my right hon. Friend give us an opportunity in the near future to debate race relations, especially in view of the backwardness of the Select Committee's report?

Mr. Foot

I think that it would be best for the House first to await the statement from the Home Secretary. One purpose of that statement is to allay precisely some of those fears to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. Critchley

Will the Leader of the House allocate an early day for a debate on the situation in the newspaper industry?

Mr. Foot

As the hon. Gentleman will have heard, there are many candidates and competitors for the debating time of the House and there are other opportunities apart from Government time for matters to be raised. However, I fully acknowledge that some of the events that have occurred in the newspaper industry in recent weeks are extremely serious for democratic institutions in this country and I certainly think that they ought to be debated at some stage in this House.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Returning to the special development order on Windscale, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is aware that when this matter had a full day's debate before Easter, a number of hon. Members were unable to be called to speak? In view of the complexity of the matter, surely it would be a travesty of debate if we were expected to reach a decision on the issue with only one and a half hours' debate.

Mr. Foot

Let us see how we proceed. Despite the fact that not every hon. Member who wished to speak was able to take part in the debate before Easter—and that is not an unprecedented state of affairs—we made special arrangements to ensure that the House should debate the matter, but I shall take into account the representations that my hon. Friend and others are still making on this subject. I recognise that there is widespread interest in this matter and we wish the House to play a full part in dealing with it.

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