HC Deb 08 June 1967 vol 747 cc1300-12
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, 12TH JUNE—In the morning—

Remaining stages of the Road Transport Lighting Bill.

Resumed debate on the Second Reading of the Anchors and Chain Cables Bill.

Motion on the Industrial Organisation and Development Order.

In the afternoon—

Progress on the Committee stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

TUESDAY, 13TH JUNE—Second Reading of the Prices and Incomes (No. 2) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Wireless Telegraphy Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 14TH JUNE—In the morning—

Second Reading of the Bermuda Constitution Bill.

Motions on the Calf Subsidies (United Kingdom) (Amendment) Scheme, the Agriculture (Tractor Cabs) Regulations and on the Agricultural Investment (Variation of Grant) Order.

In the afternoon—

Further progress on the Committee stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill, which will be continued on Thursday, 15th June.

FRIDAY, 16TH JUNE—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 19TH JUNE—Proposed business will be: In the morning—

Second Reading of the Public Works Loans (No. 2) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Bermuda Constitution Bill. In the afternoon—

Second Reading of the Aden, Perim and Kuria Muria Islands Bill.

Adjourned debate on the Gas (Borrowing Powers) Order.

Mr. Heath

The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have kept the House informed about the Middle Eastern situation, but, while it remains fluid, will the Leader of the House realise that it may still be necessary to ask for a debate at short notice? If it is, I hope that he will be able to arrange it.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman has announced the Second Reading of the Aden Bill. We were promised a statement of Government policy on Aden and a debate. Can he give the House an assurance that the statement of policy about Aden will be made some days before the actual debate on the Bill? We can perhaps discuss the form of the debate on the Bill through the usual channels.

Mr. Crossman

I will give the assurance that we will watch the situation in the Middle East day by day and see what kind of debate is required. As for Aden, I will discuss with my right hon. Friend exactly when a statement can be made.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Will the leader of the House give time during the coming weeks to discuss Motion No. 563, about the supply of oil to Britain which is being endangered by the war in the Middle East, because it is a very urgent matter?

[That, in view of the danger by war or otherwise to the supply of oil and gas to Great Britain, this House urges the Prime Minister to set up an expert, qualified commission of inquiry and take all other urgent necessary steps in conjunction with the companies now drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea under Government licence to maintain adequate supplies of these essentials to Great Britain.]

Mr. Crossman

From the actual wording of my hon. and learned Friend's Motion, it would appear that my right hon. Friend has suggested in recent statements that this problem is being considered carefully by the Government.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Last week, the right hon. Gentleman promised a statement today on the Government's consideration of the effect of the writ which has been issued about the proposed siting of a third London airport at Stansted. Can he now say whether consideration has been given to it and what action the Government propose to take?

Mr. Crossman

We have taken the best advice. In my view, it would not be in order to debate the White Paper, but it would be perfectly in order to debate the actual Order which the Government wish to lay, if that is the wish of the House. That will mean waiting until the Order is laid. However, I think that I can give a guarantee that there will not be a long delay in doing that.

Mr. John Lee

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to Motion No. 561, calling for an amendment of the constitution to make the denationalisation of any industry that much more difficult? Would he be prepared to provide time for a debate in the near future? Alternatively, would he look kindly upon the idea of a Private Member's Bill to that effect?

[That this House would welcome the introduction of special legislation to amend the British Constitution in such a way as to render more difficult the denationalisation of any public corporation or other nationally-owned assets.]

Mr. Crossman

I hesitate to remind my hon. Friend, but I do not think that we could have the kind of constitution in this country which could be amended in the way he suggests. On reflection, I suggest that basic attempts to tie up this country too tightly usually defeat themselves.

Mr. Peter Walker

In view of yesterday's statement by the Minister of Transport that the railway deficit has increased still further this year, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to give time to debate British Railways' Accounts for 1966 at an early date?

Mr. Crossman

I do not think that I I could give any undertaking to have them debated at an early date, but I undertake to discuss through the usual channels when a debate can be arranged.

Mr. Molloy

Has my right hon. Friend given further consideration to Motion No. 518, signed by many hundreds of right hon. and hon. Members, relating to the British Servicemen who were in Sachsenshausen concentration camp? Is he aware of the strong feeling in the House that there should be a debate on what many of us consider a very important issue?

[That this House calls upon the Foreign Secretary to appoint an independent person to investigate the treatment of former British inmates of Sachsenshausen Concentration Camp, civilian and military, who have been refused compensation under the agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the Federal Republic of Germany, signed on the 7th June, 1964, with power to recommend the award of ex-gratia payments in appropriate cases.]

Mr. Grossman

I have given a great deal of further consideration to this matter. I was glad that the hon. Member who brought this first to my attention adopted my suggestion and considered the matter with the Parliamentary Commissioner to see whether he, as an independent investigator, would be able, if asked, to cover the case. I have confirmed this and there is now, I think, no doubt that the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner is suitable, although no reference has yet been made to him.

In the Parliamentary Commissioner we have an independent investigator to whom we have given very great powers, and since the Motion recommends an independent investigation I would have thought that those supporting it might consider the possibility of taking this course. I would not say more than that now.

Mr. Sandys

In view of the strong feelings of abhorrence in the House about the use of poison gas in the Yemen, will the right hon. Gentleman provide time to debate the all-party Motion No. 559?

[That this House deplores the continued use of poison gas by the Egyptian forces in the Yemen and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to raise the matter urgently at the United Nations.]

Secondly, he will remember that last week he undertook to speak to the Commonwealth Secretary about the possibility of a full statement about Rhodesia. Has he further information on that?

Mr. Crossman

I have communicated with my right hon. Friend on that subject, but he does not feel that the time is ready for a statement on Rhodesia yet.

As to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I do not think that I can add any- thing to what my right hon. Friend has said. This is a subject which can be debated when we come to the Second reading of the Aden Bill, which would extend to that subject and also possibly to the general Middle Eastern situation.

Mr. Sandys

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be in order to discuss the use of poison gas in the Yemen on Second Reading of the Aden Bill?

Mr. Speaker

That I must consider when I come to it.

Mr. Ginsburg

Reverting to Motion No. 518, does my right hon. Friend confirm, first, that it would be open to the Parliamentary Commissioner to interview the men concerned—which is one of the problems in this matter—and, secondly, that it would be open to the House to debate the Parliamentary Commissioner's report in the widest sense, on the whole question of the Foreign Office's behaviour in this matter?

Mr. Crossman

I can give an affirmative answer to both those points. The Parliamentary Commissioner could certainly interview the men, I would remind the House that he would have right of access to all the secret documents in the Foreign Office on the case and also to cross-examine all the officials and Ministers concerned.

Finally, now that we have appointed our Select Committee, it would, of course, be open to it to consider how to treat the report of the Parliamentary Commissioner. It could urge a debate if that were necessary.

Mr. Kirk

On the question of Stansted, is it not a fact that the writ concerns only the actions of the Minister after the inspector had reported and that there is nothing to stop the House debating the general principles of siting an airport at Stansted?

Mr. Crossman

I can only give the advice tendered to us by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. He advised that if we wished to debate this no one could challenge the House's decision to table or debate an Order and that the Order would give the House the power to debate all the issues. He said that it would be dubious, however, whether we could debate the White Paper as distinct from the Order. But I do not think that that would make any difference to the terms of the debate.

Mr. Strauss

In the Sachsenhausen case, surely it is not appropriate to refer the matter to the Parliamentary Commissioner, because this is a case where there has been a deliberate and considered decision by a senior Minister of the Government. Surely it is the Government who must be held responsible if anything has gone wrong here. It is not a matter for investigation into the Civil Service.

Mr. Crossman

It is not for me to advise hon. Members whether they should refer matters to the Parliamentary Commissioner. All I have stated is that a tentative approach has been made to him and that the case is within his jurisdiction. It is entirely up to the House and individual hon. Members whether they refer it to him or not.

Mr. Robert Carr

Reverting to the Stansted question, will the right hon. Gentleman note that, on this side of the House, we would not be agreeable to debate the Order in advance of debating the White Paper?

Mr. Crossman

I appreciate the point, but I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman that I had the impression that the House did not want an over-long delay before debating the matter. We have taken legal advice and it was thought proper to warn the House that it might debate the Order but not the White Paper as distinct from the Order. If it is felt that we should debate both simultaneously, we may have some postponement of the debate. I thought that right hon. and hon. Members were anxious to have one in the relatively near future.

Mr. Frank Allaun

When will the Government's proposals for putting baths, lavatories and hot water into 3 million old houses which need them be published and discussed?

Mr. Crossman

I know the importance my hon. Friend attaches to this subject. I will discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and no doubt he will make a statement.

Mr. Neave

On Motion 518, if the Parliamentary Commissioner were to find that this was a case of maladministration, would the Government feel absolutely bound to have a debate?

Mr. Crossman

I hate anticipating, but it is my impression that, if that were found, it would be the natural thing to expect the House to debate it. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

The Employment Agencies Bill is down for its Report stage and Third Reading on Friday. I hope that it will get through them on that day but, if it should not, will my right hon. Friend find Government time for completion of this widely supported Bill, which has had eight sittings in Standing Committee?

Mr. Crossman

My advice to my hon. Friend is to wait and see what happens on Friday. We can see after that what further time may be needed, but I hope that it will finish then.

Dame Irene Ward

When will the right hon. Gentleman be in a position to announce what decision has come from the consideration of the need to increase the salaries and gradings of those who serve the House?

Mr. Crossman

I cannot give a firm date on this. The Services Committee, of which I am Chairman, regards this as a matter of first importance. We are trying to accelerate as fast as we can a decision on it, for the simple reason that, to recruit the minimum staff we require to man the House next Session, we must get adequate payment for them.

Mr. Leadbitter

On Motion 518, while bearing in mind that it is possible for the Parliamentary Commissioner to consider this matter because he has jurisdiction on this kind of question, will my right hon. Friend remember that 347 right hon. and hon. Members now support the Motion? Why does not my right hon. Friend bow to the will of the House? Why cannot he give time for a debate?

Mr. Crossman

Of course we can have a debate, but the question is, "When?" I have put it to hon. Members before that this is a matter which, in my view, is wholly suitable for a private Member to bring up, after he wins a place in the Ballot, for example. But there are many areas of opportunity.

Secondly, I do not see that, in the immediate future, the Government would be able to find time for this Motion. Thirdly, as I have pointed out, since an independent investigation is what the Motion asks for, there is a possibility of that investigation being undertaken; and I put that suggestion to the proponents of the Motion.

Mr. Leadbitter

On a point of order. Will you give some guidance to the House, Mr. Speaker, on how it is possible for hon. Members, in the numbers indicated on the Order Paper, to get round the Lord President of the Council's evasion of a request for a debate?

Mr. Speaker

No Speaker has ever been able to advise an hon. Member how to get round a Lord President of the Council. All that hon. Members can do is to indicate their support for a Motion by signing their names to it. Outside that, the pressures must be political. There are political pressures on both sides of the House, of which I cannot be aware.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Does the Leader of the House fully realise that his attitude towards the problem of the former Sachsenshausen prisoners is entirely unsatisfactory? Does he realise that this matter has been dragging on for a full year? The cost of a settlement to the Government would be about £12,000 or £14,000. Three hundred and fifty Members of all parties have expressed their will on the Order Paper. Surely the right hon. Gentleman ought not to get out of his responsibility by passing it on to the Parliamentary Commissioner. But if he elects to do that, will he eventually accept the findings of the Parliamentary Commissioner?

Mr. Crossman

I recognise the hon. Gentleman as a reasonable opponent. My job is to discuss the business of the House. The question put to me was whether or not the Government could or should find time to debate this Motion. I put it to him last week and the week before: there are always three possibilities—Government time, Opposition time, and private Members' time. The Opposition are always able to take time to debate these things. Private Members can, or the Government. I said that there was no prospect of a debate in the immediate future.

Secondly, since the Motion asks only for an independent investigation, and since the Motion was first proposed there is a new possibility of the use of the Parliamentary Commissioner, I suggested to hon. Members the possibility of an independent investigation being carried out by him.

Mr. Heath

Does the Leader of the House realise the intense feeling right across the House on this matter? If the matter is put to the Parliamentary Commissioner will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he will be prepared to give time to debate his report?

Mr. Crossman

I believe that I have already answered that question. The procedure is that his report would go to the individual Member who raised the matter and then—certainly, in a case of this importance—to the Select Committee. In answer to a previous question, I said that I thought it in the highest degree unlikely that if the Select Committee were to recommend a debate the Government would refuse time. The answer, therefore, is "Yes".

Dame Irene Ward

Would it be in order for the House to eliminate one of the Government's days for discussing the Finance Bill next week, so that we could debate this issue, in the interests of democracy?

Mr. Speaker

It would be quite in order for the House to eliminate one of the Finance Bill days next week, but it would have to be done with the consent of the House, and the hon. Lady must try to get it.

Dame Irene Ward

How am I to try to get it?

Mr. Speaker

It would be wrong for Mr. Speaker to attempt to complete the political education of the hon. Lady. She knows everything about the ways of Parliament.

Mr. Whitaker

Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that if the Law Commission is to have any effect, it is important for this House to take action on the reports that it has delivered during the last two years? In particular, does he recognise the importance of this House's discussing its excellent report on family law and divorce.

Mr. Crossman

The answer is, "Yes, certainly". The second point is something that the House will want to discuss in due course, but I cannot promise an early discussion while we are still grappling with the Finance Bill.

Mr. Burden

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not think that I was discourteous to him last night when I pressed him on the question of the Brambell and Littlewood Reports, since the letter that he had sent me had not then reached me, and did not do so until that evening. This gives me an opportunity of reminding the right hon. Gentleman that for over a year right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have been pressing for a debate. Surely, in a year, the Government could give some promise of an early debate on these subjects.

Mr. Crossman

I very much appreciate the fact that this question was first raised before I became Lord President of the Council, as the question of Sachsens-hausen was. I appreciate the earnestness and the desires of hon. Members, and I want to try to satisfy them as far as possible. I bear in mind the strength of feeling on both sides of the House on this and the other subject. But I cannot give the hon. Member a guarantee of an early debate—certainly not in the next week or two.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Will my right hon. Friend give consideration to the Motion on trade union organisation in the steel industry, and consult his right hon. Friend the Minister of Power about an early debate on this matter?

Mr. Crossman

My hon. Friend is a little premature in asking me about a Motion which has not yet got on to the Order Paper—although he did me the courtesy of being able to have an initial glance at it. The House should see the Motion before it makes up its mind.

Mr. Webster

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Motion No. 564, which has 30 signatures and refers to the now uncontrolled railway deficit?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is normal practice for this House, during the summer, to debate the report and accounts of British Railways? Will he make certain that we have an opportunity to discuss this matter?

[That this House expresses its deep concern at the announcement by the Minister of Transport that the deficit of British Railways in 1967 will exceed the £134 million deficit of the previous year; and deplores the complacency of the Minister of Transport in failing to lake immediate practical measures to reduce the appalling drain on the taxpayer's resources.]

Mr. Crossman

I was asked some months ago about the British Railways deficit, and I said that I could give no guarantee. I am quite willing to discuss the matter through the usual channels, but I thought that on one of our debates on the nationalised industries it would be in order to discuss this matter.

Sir R. Russell

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot promise an early debate on the Brambell and Littlewood Reports, will he give a firm undertaking that we shall have one before the Summer Recess? Is he aware that one of these Reports was brought forward over two years ago and the other over 18 months ago?

Mr. Crossman

I appreciate this, and also that there is a small but intense demand for this debate. I shall consider it, but there are a lot of other debates for me to bear in mind and I have a lot of other commitments with regard to foreign affairs. I must bear these factors in mind in limiting the commitments I make.

Mr. Costain

In view of the fact that many Private Members' Bills try to get time in the House, will the Leader of the House say what criteria he lays down before allotting the precious commodity of Government time to these Measures?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must ask for time for a particular Private Member's Bill.

Mr. Costain

I am referring to a very important Bill—my own Bill—on the importation of animals.

Mr. Crossman

If the hon. Member is asking me for any firm commitment I cannot give one. I have before me a very long list of Private Members' Bills in various stages. On Friday, we should be able to deal with some. The Lords' Amendments are nearly completed. As for others, we shall have to wait and see how they go.

Mr. Peyton

Have not we reached a rather odd situation when over half the Members of an assembly which exists for the purpose of debate and bases itself on majority decisions have said that they want to discuss the issue of Sachsen-shausen prisoners, and they cannot do so? Can the Leader of the House advise us what further steps we can take? Do we have to have the support, expressed on the Order Paper, of every Member of the House, excluding the members of Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Crossman

No. Let me make myself quite clear. I have not said that there cannot be a debate. I have said that we cannot have a debate in the immediate future. I pointed out the difficulties of finding Government time and suggested another approach that I think it worth considering. There is no question of excluding a debate by the House.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

On next week's business, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that so long as the Agriculture Select Committee meets on Wednesday mornings, those mornings become almost as inconvenient for some hon. Members as Monday mornings? Will he therefore do what he can to avoid this clash? It puts certain Members in a position in which conflicting interests can scarcely be reconciled.

Mr. Crossman

I am aware of this difficulty, and would like to discuss it through the usual channels. I took the trouble, owing to the wish of Members, not to have agricultural matters dealt with on Mondays. Now I find that Wednesday mornings coincide with the meetings of a specialist Committee. I will discuss what is possible for the convenience of those concerned. Perhaps late nights are another possibility.

Mr. Hastings

Referring to the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), in view of the impending report of the Rhodesia Commission and the strong rumours that Salisbury may be ready to initiate discussions, can the right hon. Gentleman give a more precise idea when we may expect a statement on Rhodesia, which the Government promised only last week?

Mr. Crossman

As I said earlier, I have consulted my right hon. Friend, who does not believe that a statement is necessary in the immediate future. That does not mean, of course, that the situation might not change along the lines which the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Dr. Winstanley

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Sachsenshausen matter should be referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner, is he aware that the Motion requesting a debate on the subject has been signed by more than half the Members of the Select Committee dealing with the Parliamentary Commissioner?

Mr. Crossman

All I said was that that Motion suggested the appointment of an independent investigator and that we might be able to get to the independent investigator in this way and have the debate after he has investigated. I should have thought that that was reasonable.

Mr. Onslow

Would the right hon. Gentleman be more specific about Stan-sted? If we cannot have a debate this week, will we have one this month? Not only do hon. Members want this debate; there are many other important civil aviation matters waiting to be debated for which we must get Stansted out of the way first.

Mr. Crossman

I could not agree more. As an ex-Minister of Housing and Local Government I know that the interminable process of coming to a conclusion has been one of the problems holding up every kind of decision. The Government want to get on with this as quickly as possible. It is a matter of the preparation of the Order. As soon as that is done I will try to make arrangements for the debate.