HC Deb 17 November 1966 vol 736 cc641-50
Mr. Heath

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

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 21ST NOVEMBER—Supply [4th Allotted Day]: Committee.

There will be a debate on Aviation, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

TUESDAY, 22ND NOVEMBER —Remaining stages of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation Bill and of the National Coal Board (Additional Powers) Bill.

Motions on the National Health Service (Superannuation) (Amendment) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY, 23RD NOVEMBER —Second Reading of the Local Government (Termination of Reviews) Bill and of the Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Land Registration Bill [Lords.]

THURSDAY, 24TH NOVEMBER—Debate on the First Report from the Select Committee on Broadcasting etc., of Proceedings in the House of Commons.

FRIDAY, 25TH NOVEMBER —Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 28TH NOVEMBER— The proposed business will be: Supply [5th Allotted Day]: Committee.

Mr. Heath

Can the right hon. Gentleman yet say when either the Prime Minister or the Commonwealth Secretary is likely to make a statement soon about Rhodesia? Can he confirm his undertaking that the Government will not take action until there has been a debate on the White Paper itself?

Mr. Crossman

We appreciate the forbearance of hon. Members opposite. The Prime Minister hopes to make a statement next week and, after that, we will consult through the usual channels.

Mr. Mendelson

In view of the serious drop in the level of production, especially in manufacturing and engineering, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a very early debate, preferably next week, on this development and on the connection between it and the level of unemployment at present and in the immediate future?

Mr. Crossman

I appreciate the anxiety of my hon. Friend about this question, but I think that we must keep to the business for next week. However, I will certainly consider how far the House desires a debate on this issue in the near future.

Mr. Lubbock

Did I understand the Prime Minister to say at Question Time that a statement about the future of the Ministry of Aviation would be made in advance of the debate on aviation on Monday? Can we therefore take it that the statement will be made by the Prime Minister on Monday?

Mr. Crossman

I think that I heard the Prime Minister's words and I thought that he said that he hoped to make a statement in a few days.

Hon. Members indicated dissent.

Mr. Crossman

My right hon. Friend chose his words very carefully. He said that he hoped to make a statement in a few days. I cannot tell the House precisely when he will make a statement. It may be made before Monday, but I am not sure of that.

Mr. English

In view of the assurance given by my right hon. Friend last week, could he say when the Government's Motion on the Broadcasting Committee's Report will be laid before the House, so that we have time to consider it?

Mr. Crossman

I feel remiss in not being able to give this answer. We shall lay it in good time for the House to consider it. I do not think that my hon. Friend will find that there is any controversy about it.

Mr. R. Carr

Will the right hon. Gentleman not trust his memory but have a careful look tomorrow at what his right hon. Friend said, because we certainly understood that, while not promising a statement before the debate, he said that he would, if possible, make it before the aviation debate on Monday, which would be for the convenience of the House?

Mr. Crossman

We are not contradicting each other. I think that the words which my right hon. Friend used were "within a few days". That would, naturally, lead some people to presume that it would be before the debate next Monday. All I said was that I could not go further than the precise words which he used.

Mr. Heffer

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Penis-tone (Mr. Mendelson), would my right hon. Friend give an assurance that if we cannot have a debate next week we shall have one the week after, in view of the growing feeling among Members on this side of the House about the rise in unemployment?

Mr. Crossman

I think that I have said all that I can say on this point. If this is a subject which the House wishes to debate urgently, we will certainly discuss it through the usual channels and ascertain the strength of feeling on this side of the House as well.

Mr. MacMaster

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is not possible for hon. Members to obtain from the Vote Office an official copy of the Treaty of Rome? Will he take steps, as was done when this matter was last discussed, to make sure that copies of the treaty are available other than at two days' notice on the green form?

Mr. Crossman

I am grateful for that information. I will certainly make sure that this is available from now on.

Mr. Dalyell

Since the Sports Council issued its first annual Report on Monday, is there a possibility of a debate on sport in the fairly near future?

Mr. Crossman

I am prepared to consider the possibility of a debate, but it would be going too far to say that it will be in the fairly near future.

Mr. Farr

In view of the fact that the desire of the House for a large-scale debate on Gibraltar was recently thwarted in part by the Liberal Party, would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to say whether he can put aside an early date for a debate on this very important subject?

Mr. Crossman

I should have thought that it was very unlikely. We had a good many hours on Gibraltar. But I repeat that I think that we are still hoping to have a two-day debate on foreign affairs before Christmas. This might be an issue which could be raised in that debate.

Mr. Rankin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is still a little ambiguity about the promised statement by the Prime Minister on the future of the Ministry of Aviation? In view of the fact that this will be an important debate, would he tell us quite clearly that we can depend of a statement being made about the future of this Ministry before the debate takes place?

Mr. Crossman

The imprecision in my statement was accurate and precise—that is to say, I was precisely imprecise in saying that I could not go further than the Prime Minister's statement.

Sir C. Osborne

May I support the plea of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) for a very early debate on the problem of production, in view of the fact that most industrialists expect production to fall still further and the Prime Minister's threat of 2 million unemployed may well come about? Cannot this be treated as a matter of great urgency?

Mr. Crossman

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows very well that this is the kind of subject which the Opposition could put down for debate on one of their Supply days.

Mr. Michael Foot

Would my right hon. Friend recall the answer which he gave last week to the request for a debate on Motion No. 255, which referred to the statements made by the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber)?

[That this House deplores the conduct of the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale who, in Standing Committee D on 8th November, 1966, made a squalid personal attack, on the basis of only a newspaper report, on a right hon. Member who was not, and could not be, present, and refused to withdraw it even when categorically assured that the newspaper report was incorrect.]

My right hon. Friend did not refuse the request for a debate, but he said that it would be better if the matter could be dealt with by a simple retraction by the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale. Nothing of the sort happened. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman committed the offence again. Indeed, he completely misled the House about what had occurred—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue the issue now. He must ask for time to discuss the Motion.

Mr. Crossman

I can only repeat what I said last week. I should have thought that it would be for the good of the House if the right hon. Gentleman would withdraw these remarks. That would end this whole discussion.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

When will legislation be introduced to implement the Geddes Report on Shipbuilding, as the matter is now becoming urgent?

Mr. Crossman

I cannot give a precise date.

Mr. Mapp

May I press my right hon. Friend to recall his statement last week? Can he say whether, before Christmas, we can have a debate on the White Paper on Transport, since we have had the White Paper for three or four months?

Mr. Crossman

I do not expect that there will be a debate on the White Paper before Christmas, but I would point out to my hon. Friend that the part of the White Paper dealing with waterways can be debated on an early occasion—next Friday, I think.

Mr. Hastings

On the coming debate on Rhodesia, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm what I think is the case, that many hon. Member feel that if the negotiations break down the purpose of this debate must be to discuss this critical matter before, and not after, the Government have made up their mind what to do next regardless of the White Paper?

Mr. Crossman

I have borne that in mind. I repeat the assurance that the debate will take place before the Government make up their mind and announce the policy on the next step.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

May I revert to the Ministry of Aviation matter? Would my right hon. Friend ask the Prime Minister whether he will make his statement before Monday, in view of the strong wish of Members on both sides of the House?

Mr. Crossman

Certainly. I will pass a message to the Prime Minister. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that if it is humanly possible the Prime Minister will make the statement in time for the debate.

Mr. Biffen

On Wednesday's business, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, after the Second Reading of the Local Government (Termination of Reviews) Bill, it is the Government's intention that this Bill shall be considered by a Committee of the whole House?

Mr. Crossman

I had assumed that it would go upstairs, but I will consider this as a possibility. I should not have thought that this Bill, which, if I remember aright, deals mainly with the problem of London education—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I understand that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Bill on the Boundaries Commission. I will consider his point and give a considered answer.

Mr. Hector Hughes

In view of the urgency of the situation created by the collapse of part of Aberdeen University's building and the importance to the students and the dependants of the men who were killed, would my right hon. Friend find time for a discussion on Motion No. 252 on the Order Paper dealing with that subject?

[That this House is shocked by the recent collapse of the new building at the College of Technology in Aberdeen University, resulting in the loss of four lives and injuries to other persons; and is of opinion that the Government should set up a tribunal under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, to ascertain the technical and other defects which led to the collapse, to hear technical and other evidence, and also counsel for the dependants to ascertain and award compensation to the dependants.]

The matter has only been referred to the Procurator-Fiscal instead of there being a full debate and full inquiry.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman has made his point. He cannot argue beyond that.

Mr. Crossman

I have nothing to add to the answer which I gave to my hon. and learned Friend last week. We must await the result of the inquiry.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that this time last week he was good enough to give an undertaking that he would consult the Minister of Power about whether the Members of Standing Committee D might be enabled to take part in Thursday's business on the Floor of the House? May it be assumed that the same undertaking applies this week?

Mr. Crossman

We have had two days this week, and I should have thought that the problems of the Members of that Committee had been greatly eased by the holding of a two-day debate.

Mr. Lipton

Regarding the Motion on broadcasting, which the Government are to submit next Thursday and which the Leader of the House says will be non-controversial, may we have an assurance that, if necessary, a free vote will be allowed on that Motion?

Mr. Crossman

I have already given an assurance that there will be a free vote on the whole issue of television next Thursday.

May I add to my reply to the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen)? I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's question. The question of the winding up of the Boundaries Commission, which is the subject of the Bill for debate next Wednesday, does not seem to me to be a matter which we need debate on the Floor of the House. I was correct in so far as the second part of the Bill deals with the question of the review of education in London. Neither of these seems to me to be an issue which we need debate on the Floor of the House. I should have thought that they could suitably be taken upstairs.

Mr. van Straubenzee

On a point of order. As it is quite clear that the Leader of the House unintentionally misunderstood a question by an hon. Member, would you, Mr. Speaker, permit another question to be asked during business questions on Thursday next week?

Mr. Speaker

Certainly. The modest request of the hon. Gentleman will be granted.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Having had the Second Reading of the London Government Bill this week to postpone the London borough elections from next year to the following year, may I ask whether there is any truth in the suggestion that there will be a postponement of the Greater London Council elections as well?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That does not seem to me to be a business question.

Mr. Onslow

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a disproportionate amount of Question Time seems to be taken up with purely domestic matters of the House to the exclusion of more important business, and will he look at this? Secondly, will he tell us whether the Prime Minister has accepted responsibility for answering future questions on the subject of telephone tapping?

Mr. Crossman

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, it is for hon. Members to decide what Questions they put down. It is not for the Leader of the House to make an allocation of subjects.

As regards the second part, the Prime Minister had four Questions transferred for today in order to make the statement, which I am sure satisfied the House.

Mr. Awdry

The right hon. Gentleman referred to waterways in his answer to a question about the White Paper on transport. Only about five sections of it deal with waterways. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members would welcome an early debate on the White Paper?

Mr. Crossman

I am aware of that. I said that the only subject which there was any remote chance of debating was a minor part of the White Paper. I do not think I can give any assurance about a debate on the White Paper before Christmas. We have a very full business programme.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

There is no second time round on business questions.

Mr. Iremonger

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, if questions arising on the right hon. Gentleman's statement about the business of the House for next week have been concluded, would it be in order to raise a point with you? It is one which puzzles me, and arises out of a remark made by the right hon. Gentleman. It is a remark which is made from time to time, and one which, with respect, the House on consideration might deplore.

The right hon. Gentleman said that there would be a free vote. May I respectfully submit to you that such an expression is out of order? All votes in this House are the votes of hon. Members, and it ill-becomes the Leader of the House to talk about a free vote. There are no such things as usual channels, according to the rules of order of the House, and to refer to a free vote in a formal statement by the Leader of the House creates a totally wrong impression of the constitutional position which prevails. It is very much to be regretted, and should be withdrawn.

Mr. Speaker

That is a very interesting exercise in semantics, but I think that the House understands what is meant by a free vote. Nothing out of order was said in that reply by the Leader of the House.