HC Deb 29 June 1967 vol 749 cc753-65
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, 3RD JULY—In the morning—

Remaining stages of the Advertisements (Hire Purchase) Bill [Lords] and of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill [Lords], which are consolidation Measures.

Lords Amendments to the Uniform Laws on International Sales Bill.

Remaining stages of the Public Records Bill [Lords].

In the afternoon—

Private Members' Motions until seven o'clock, followed by the Second Reading of the National Insurance (No. 2) Bill.

Afterwards, the Government propose to facilitate further consideration of the Sexual Offences (No. 2) Bill.

TUESDAY, 4TH JULY—Remaining stages of the Countryside (Scotland) Bill and of the Post Office (Data Processing Service) Bill.

Motion on the Rating and Valuation (Scotland) Amendment Order.

WEDNESDAY, 5TH JULY—In the morning—

Second Reading of the Greenwich Hospital Bill.

Remaining stages of the Matrimonial Causes Bill [Lords].

In the afternoon—

Supply [23rd Allotted Day]:

Debate on Industry and Employment in Scotland, which will arise on an Opposition Motion.

Opposition Prayer on the Prices and Incomes Order relating to Harland and Wolff Limited.

THURSDAY, 6TH JULY—Supply [24th Allotted Day]:

Debate on the Middle East, on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the House of Commons Members' Fund. Remaining stages of the Bermuda Constitution Bill.

FRIDAY, 7TH JULY—Remaining stages of the National Insurance (No. 2) Bill.

MONDAY, 10TH JULY—The proposed business will be:

In the morning—

Prayers relating to the Training of Teachers Regulations and the Factories Carcinogenic Substances Order.

In the afternoon—

Supply [25th Allotted Day]:

Debate on a topic to be announced later.

Mr. Heath

Can the Leader of the House confirm that it is still the Government's intention to publish the mid-year defence White Paper? If so, is he aware that the House would, I am sure, want to debate it before we rise for the Recess? In that event, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that we shall have time for a debate and that the White Paper will be published in time to be given full consideration before the debate?

Mr. Crossman

I hope to make a statement in next week's business statement about the Government's intention concerning the White Paper. I give the assurance straight away that if there is a White Paper we will give adequate time between its publication and the day of debate.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be an early debate on the White Paper on Town and Country Planning, which has just been published?

Mr. Crossman

I think that the White Paper has only just been published. We had better study it. My hon. Friend will be optimistic if he thinks that we will get a debate on it before the Recess.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Will the Leader 'of the House give consideration to completion of the Prime Minister's speech last week on the D Notice question? As the right hon. Gentleman will recall, his right hon. Friend said that had there been more time he would have liked to expand on the future of the D Notice system. Perhaps that part of the Prime Minister's speech could either be laid in the Library or the Prime Minister could make a statement next week.

Mr. Crossman

As to the suggestion, which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman is making, of a further debate on D Notices, I gather that discussions are now going on between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party. We should await the end of those discussions before we decide what next to do in the House about the matter.

Dr. David Kerr

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many hon. Members, on both sides, are grateful for the opportunity to make further progress on the Sexual Offences (No. 2) Bill? Can my right hon. Friend say at what time it is expected that the debate on Monday might begin?

Mr. Crossman

As I have told the House, on Monday we are having the Second Reading of the National Insurance (No. 2) Bill. The debate will come after that.

Sir C. Osborne

May I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider his decision to force this so-called Private Member's Bill on homosexuality through the House on Monday night, in view of two things: first, that the servants of the House have reached a point where they are breaking down, and secondly, when morning sittings were instituted, the Leader of the House promised that we should not have night sittings if we accepted morning sittings? Will not the right hon. Gentleman honour that promise?

Mr. Crossman

The hon. Member has put two reasons for our not considering the Bill further late on Monday. I do not think that the reasons are valid. This is, I think, another Bill on which it is proper to enable the House to come to a decision one way or the other. That is the position that the Government are adopting.

As for the hon. Member's remarks about the servants of the House and the doorkeepers, I share to the full his anxiety about them. In the Services Committee we are actively engaged in doing the only possible long-term job, which is the recruiting of more staff.

We shall, however, have to take drastic measures, and I had better now tell the House that we will have tonight to close the Special Galleries. The Serjeant at Arms has asked me to say this as a matter of urgency because of the great strain on the doorkeepers. He has asked me to consider this matter. I have considered it and have come to the conclusion that it is not fair on the doorkeepers to impose unnecessarily long hours. I shall ask the House to accept the need for closing the side galleries—

Sir C. Osborne

Close the House altogether.

Mr. Crossman

I am seeking to answer the hon. Member's question. That will enable us to have the whole of the Strangers' Gallery open. I regret doing this, but I am glad that the hon. Member has mentioned the matter, because I have very much in mind the strain which all-night sittings at the end of a long Session imposes on our staff.

Mr. Hector Hughes

As to Monday's business, is it not a perversion to give time to the Sexual Offences (No. 2) Bill while denying time to my Motion to restore to returning seamen the rail voucher facilities which they formerly enjoyed?

[That this House is of opinion that for social, family, economic and other reasons the withdrawal by British Railways of the cheap fare railway vouchers hitherto available to seamen and their families is wrong as it frustrates family reunions, deprives British Railways of fares, diminishes British Railways income and now calls upon Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Transport, by legislation or otherwise, to restore to British seamen and their families the relevant facilities which they have hitherto enjoyed.]

Mr. Crossman

I appreciate my hon. and learned Friend's pertinacity in promoting the cause of his Motion. I would like to feel that I could give him assurances that we could debate it, but I say in all seriousness that the business which we will be discussing next Monday night is business on which the House should now come to a decision.

Mr. Turton

As the Prime Minister last week said there was an urgent need to debate the Reports of Mr. Speaker's Conference on Electoral Law, when will the Leader of the House afford time to do so?

Mr. Crossman

If I remember aright, in the exchanges with the Prime Minister my right hon. Friend pointed out that each of the decisions had been taken seriatim and we thought that the wisest thing was to await the full list of decisions. I think that there is still one to come. The time for debate will come when we have received and considered them as a whole, but I can give no kind of promise that we are likely to do it before the Recess.

Mr. Houghton

Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports and the evidence of organised obstruction which is to be used against the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill after ten o'clock tonight? Is he aware that this is a deliberate attempt to prevent the House from reaching a conclusion on the Bill, and will he bear these tactics in mind in considering whether further time must be given later to the Bill?

Mr. Crossman

My attention was drawn to what purported to be a copy of a letter from an hon. Member to other hon. Members which seemed to indicate certain tactics which, it was suggested, would be employed. It is my job not to take sides in this matter. All that I would say to my right hon. Friend is that whether we give more time is a question which we will not consider until after the debate has taken place. Certainly, in considering it, one factor is bound to be whether time is well used or abused.

Sir A. V. Harvey

To enable the House to arrive at a decision on a Private Member's Bill, why does the right hon. Gentleman insist on an all-night sitting? It has been freely intimated that the House may rise on 28th July. Why cannot these matters be discussed in the light of day. Are the Government trying to put the shutters up and get Parliament out of the way because they are doing so badly?

Mr. Crossman

This is a point of which we can discuss the merits. I think that there are certain times when the House has the right to lengthy sittings, which is when emotions are passionately engaged and Members feel desperately that they want to prolong the debate.

My impression is that on this Bill there are matters of principle and passion aris- ing among Members on both sides, in respect of which I would expect a lengthy debate. If we have a lengthy debate I think that the right thing is to have it at the time I have allotted. It does not seem any more likely that people will abuse procedure at night. I believe that they will debate the matter fairly and honestly together[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope they will. I think it right, in the case of a Private Members' Bill to which Government time is given, and when it is the wish of those concerned with the Bill, that we should give it time late at night.

Mr. Winnick

After some of the humbug expressed by hon. Members opposite, is the Leader of the House aware—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Grow up.

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not out of order to accuse one side of the House of humbug. It may be discourteous.

Mr. Winnick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great and genuine sympathy among hon. Members on this side of the House for the doorkeepers, who seem to be underpaid and overworked? May we know next week whether there will be a settlement of this dispute? Will my right hon. Friend be making a statement?

Mr. Crossman

I do not know what my hon. Friend means by talking about a dispute. There is no kind of dispute. There is a decision. The Serjeant at Arms and I discussed this matter. It is a matter of urgency because we have been facing the prospect of one or two late sittings at the end of a tiring Session when we both felt it necessary to make some concessions, even to the extent of curtailing space in the public galleries. I regret this curtailment, which we are doing in the short run, but the only solution is the recruitment of more people next Session, so as to have the House adequately manned.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile the new sense of proportion in providing only half a day for the Government's National Insurance Bill with providing virtually unlimited Government time for two so-called Private Members' Bills? In view of what the right hon. Gentleman said about not taking sides, is it not taking sides to adopt the expedient normally adopted for highly controversial Government Measures, by providing an unlimited suspension?

Mr. Crossman

I would not think that the decision that the Government took to provide this time was taking sides. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman accuses me of it. In this case I have sought as far as possible to treat these issues of Private Members' Bills as a House of Commons matter, and to ask whether it is not proper from time to time to enable the House to come to a decision and not to spend its time on Bills which are dropped half-way through. This has been my concern.

I shall certainly consider, through the usual channels, whether the time for the National Insurance Bill is too short—but no kind of suggestion was put forward last week that anybody thought that it was too short, and I would be surprised if that argument were maintained.

Mr. Milne

Will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of an early debate on industry and employment in the development districts in England and Wales, if not next week, certainly before the Summer Recess, in view of the urgency of the situation?

Mr. Crossman

I will bear that point in mind, but I would remind my hon. Friend that the amount of Government time is severely limited. When I remember that we are to have a debate on defence and another on foreign affairs I realise that the number of general debates will have to be limited, in view of the short time available before the Recess.

Sir D. Renton

Will the right hon. Gentleman state the principles which inspired the Government in deciding which Private Members' Bills should be given time so that the House could come to a decision?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have already ruled on this subject. We cannot discuss the criteria at business question time. The right hon. and learned Gentleman can ask for another Private Member's Bill to be included. That is the purpose of business questions.

Mr. Hamling

In view of what my right hon. Friend said about tonight's closing of the Special Galleries, what steps is he taking to improve the conditions of the servants of the House?

Mr. Crossman

This is a matter which the Services Committee has been engaged on for some weeks. I am asking my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to discuss it with the members of that Committee because I regard this as a matter of considerable importance to the dignity and efficient functioning of the House.

Mr. Nott

Does the right hon. Gentleman think it reasonable to debate important matters of social legislation, such as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, on a Thursday night, with very little notice, when hon. Members want to attend the debate but are prevented from doing so due to long-standing engagements in their constituencies? Will he undertake that in future these items of social legislation will be taken during mid-week so that Members who wish to do so may participate?

Mr. Crossman

I think that the notice given was the normal notice, which is given week by week. There is no difference here from any other part of our business. I gave the assurance last week that I was prepared to consider very carefully the convenience of hon. Members—private Members, in particular—in respect of these Bills. This is why, in the case of the Sexual Offences Bill, after hearing what happened last time, we had it on a Monday and not a Thursday, I believe to the greater convenience of hon. Members.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Can my right hon. Friend add anything to what he told me last week about a debate on the report that we can expect to receive on the deliberations of the Specialist Committee on Agriculture? Has he made any progress towards an amicable settlement of the question of facilities for that Committee?

Mr. Crossman

I do not know of any report. There is no normal procedure for the report of a Specialist Committee to be discussed before we have had it. The Specialist Committee in due course will write its report and deliver it to the House. As for the question of the talks that I have been having with the Committee, it would be a breach of privilege if I discussed them.

Sir J. Eden

Since the handling of business by the right hon. Gentleman has laid an unprecedented strain upon the servants of the House and rendered it virtually impossible for hon. Members adequately to scrutinise legislation, will the right hon. Gentleman provide time next week, or soon thereafter, for a debate?

Mr. Crossman

A debate on what?

Sir J. Eden

On the right hon. Gentleman's incompetence.

Mr. Crossman

I would remind the hon. Gentleman that he has ways and means of forcing a debate of that kind.

Mr. Shinwell

On the question asked by my hon. Friend relating to Specialist Committees, I agree with my right hon. Friend that it would be improper to discuss the activities of the Committee before its report has been received, but may we have an assurance that these Specialist Committees which have been recently created, and are quite an innovation, are independent and that they have the right to determine their own functions and activities without any interference or restriction on the part of the Government?

Mr. Crossman

I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance, and in the case of the Committee on Agriculture I would have thought that it had provided plenty of evidence of that.

Mr. Braine

Does the Leader of the House recall that last week he described the Motion which drew attention to the Government's failure to employ the 3 per cent. quota of disabled workers as unworthy of debate?

[That this House notes with regret the failure of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to reveal to the House in answer to a Parliamentary Question on 13th June the fact that the percentage of registered disabled persons employed by Government departments has now fallen below the standard three per cent. prescribed by the Minister of Labour, and deplores the Government's failure to take effective steps to remedy the position.]

In view of the fact that the Government, of all people, are supposed to set an example to private industry in this matter, will the right hon. Gentleman make amends for his remark and provide time to debate this important subject?

Mr. Crossman

I do not think that I can provide time, but I appreciate what the hon. Member on the Liberal benches said. The description of the Motion by the Leader of the House was unworthy of the Leader of the House and I withdraw it.

Mr. Coe

Will my right hon. Friend look again at the answer he gave to the request for a debate on the conclusions of the Speaker's Conference on Electoral Law which have already been decided? Will he consider those conclusions which have already been given, which are sufficient for a very useful debate?

Mr. Crossman

I would prefer to stand by what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, namely, that the Government would definitely prefer to see the recommendations as a whole before deciding what view to take of them.

Mr. Godber

Now that the Wise Committee has published its final Report, and bearing in mind the length of time which this has taken, would the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that we will he able to debate the Report before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Crossman

I am sincere when I say that I wish that I could, but I cannot.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has, from time to time, told the House that he hopes to find time for a debate on the Employment Agencies Bill? Is he also aware that, week after week, he does not say when it will be? Is he also aware that I listened with anxiety today but still did not hear the time? Finally, is he aware—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman can ask for time more briefly than that, I think.

Mr. Jenkins

May I put my final sentence, Mr. Speaker? Is my right hon. Friend aware that if he does not hurry up we will have no time at all?

Mr. Crossman

I would suggest that a quiet talk behind the Chair might be a more effective way of getting time.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that hon. Members will remember that there is a good deal of business before us. Sir Spencer Summers.

Sir S. Summers

Having regard to the fact that morning sittings were partially justified on the flimsy pretext that late-night sittings would thereby be rendered unnecessary, is it not disgraceful that two all-night sittings should be made inevitable by the right hon. Gentleman's timetable?

Mr. Crossman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to answer that point. I gave the assurance that, in my view, we should be able, through morning sittings, to stop Government business early on Thursdays, and this we have successfully done. Now comes the question, when should we fit in the long contentious debates on a Private Member's Bill? On two occasions we have put it on evenings of the week. This is not Government time. We are stopping our Government time when we should, and if private Members want, as I believe they do, to have much more time for these Bills, I suggest that those hon. Members who care passionately will care passionately enough to stay up all night.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Jopling.

Mr. Peyton

Will the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I called Mr. Jopling.

Mr. Jopling

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider allowing time for a debate on whether a review of Parliamentary privilege is necessary, in view of recent examples of the way in which people outside the House can have their lives and reputations shattered by innuendo in this place?

Mr. Crossman

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman need ask for a debate on the subject; a Committee is already discussing it.

Mr. Jennings

In view of the serious plight of public service and Armed Forces pensioners, would the right hon. Gentleman give time for a short debate, perhaps during one of the morning sittings, to allow the Government to make a definite statement on this subject?

Mr. Crossman

I am certainly prepared to consider that possibility through the usual channels.

Mr. Peyton

Would the right hon. Gentleman explain what he meant when he told my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) that there were means of securing a debate upon his own handling of the business of the House? There is already a Motion on the Order Paper in my name severely critical of his handling of business, and I hope that we may have time to discuss it.

[That this House deplores the arrangement of business by the Leader of the House of Commons whereby debates on the Aden, Perim and Kuria Muria Islands Bill, relating to the granting of independence to these territories in complex and difficult circumstances, and the Gas (Borrowing Powers) Order 1967, giving a nationalised industry power to borrow an additional £300 million, had to take place after 10 p.m.; considers that this arrangement effectively prevented the careful and detailed consideration which such measures warranted; and calls upon the Leader of the House to abandon further gimmickry and worthless plans of Parliamentary reform and concentrate his efforts on ensuring that an opportunity is provided for the effective and careful scrutiny of legislation and expenditure.]

Mr. Crossman

Certainly. It is one of several hundred Motions which we have which I will weigh carefully on their merits and importance.

Mr. Michael Shaw

When will the Report stage of the Companies Bill come forward? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we understand that there are many Government Amendments to the Bill and that it is only right, in our view, that the back benchers and outside interests should have plenty of time to consider them before they are debated on Report?

Mr. Crossman

I appreciate that this is extremely important. I think that I may be able to make a statement next week, but I am not quite sure.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

In view of the widespread concern at reports from Aden that British troops are being restricted in the weapons which they use in action, will the right hon. Gentleman consult his right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and arrange for an early statement on this subject?

Mr. Crossman

I will certainly communicate the hon. and gallant Gentleman's anxieties. Of course, the issue can be discussed in the debate on the Middle East next Thursday.