HC Deb 05 December 1968 vol 774 cc1837-46
Mr. Heath

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business of the House for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

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

MONDAY, 9TH DECEMBER—Motions on the Rate Support Grant Order, and on the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) Orders.

TUESDAY, 10TH DECEMBER and WEDNESDAY, 11TH DECEMBER—Completion of the Committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill.

THURSDAY, 12TH DECEMBER—Supply [5th Allotted Day]:

Debate on Foreign Affairs, on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the National Insurance (Reserve) Fund.

FRIDAY, 13TH DECEMBER—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 16TH DECEMBER—Motions on the Army Act, 1955 and the Air Force Act, 1955 (Continuation) Orders.

It may be convenient if I announce that, subject to progress of business, it is hoped to rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Friday, 20th December, and to reassemble on Monday, 20th January, 1969.

Mr. Heath

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the statement by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about the Falkland Islands will be made at the latest on Wednesday, so that it can be considered before the foreign affairs debate on Thursday?

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would also indicate to his right hon. Friend when he returns that hon Members on this side will want to raise the question of the recent Soviet Note and the possible reply to it, and, of course, the situation in Nigeria and Biafra.

With reference to the business on Monday week, 16th December, would the right hon. Gentleman note that we hope that the Motions relating to the Army and Air Force Acts will be taken formally so that we could then have a debate dealing with the reserves?

Mr. Peart

On the latter point, I think that what the right hon. Gentleman says is quite sensible. I will arrange for it to be done.

I understand the wish for a statement before the debate and note what the right hon. Gentleman said about Nigeria and the Soviet Note. I will certainly convey his views to my right hon. Friend——

Mr. Heath


Mr. Peart

I hope that he will be here in time and will make this arrangement.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be a public scandal if regulations permitting the large-scale employment of children were allowed to come into effect without being debated in this House? Is he aware that Monday week is the last possible date for that, and if he cannot find time for the debate next week will he find time for it on Monday, 16th December?

Mr. Peart

I am, of course, aware of my hon. Friends' views on this, as a constituent. I know that he has been in touch with my right hon. Friend on the possibility of a debate, and I hope that something satisfactory may ensue.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week, or as soon as possible, about the consequences of British Standard Time on the safety of schoolchildren? Is he aware that in Glasgow three accidents occurred this morning and that there is very real concern and that we want to discuss this as soon as possible?

Mr. Pearl

I understand that there is another proposal about this by another hon. Member. I cannot find time next week to debate this issue. My right hon. Friend has stated his views on this matter. It will be carefully watched.

Mr. William Hamilton

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the First Special Report from the Estimates Committee, indicating that, because of the reduction in the total numbers, we have had to reduce our number of Sub-Committees to four and, therefore, cannot adequately examine all the Estimates in front of us? Can he give the House an early opportunity to discuss this and related matters of control of the Executive by the Legislature.

Mr. Peart

It is right that the Executive should he checked. Indeed, in our Parliamentary system we do this. I think that my hon. Friend is being rather pessimistic when he talks about the reduction in the number of Sub-Committees.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for giving up a day for a foreign affairs debate, but, whatever the muddle about the signatures to a Motion on Nigeria, 160 hon. Member have signed a Motion asking for a debate on Nigeria before Christmas. It would be totally unacceptable to those Members if the debate on Nigeria were shoved into a general tour d'horizon of foreign Affairs. We hope that the Government can give us a full day, and before Christmas.

Mr. Pearl

I thought that my reply to the hon. Member's right hon. Friend was sensible and realistic. He will have this opportunity to make his contribution. I am aware of, and understand, the strong feeling of the right hon. Gentleman and of the many other hon. Members who have signed the Motion. There will he an opportunity; it will not be shoved under the carpet.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

If the Leader of the House cannot find another full day for a debate on Nigeria, will he at least give us an assurance that on Thursday next, instead of having a review of the whole world, which usually gives no satisfaction to anybody, we will debate Nigeria alone, where there is a war to be brought to an end?

Mr. Peart

I cannot give that assurance to my right hon. Friend. I understand his passionate view on this, but there are other hon. Members on both sides of the House who have feelings about other matters. There is no reason why he should not make his point if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker. I would have thought that the decision to have this Supply day for foreign affairs would be acceptable.

Mr. Longden

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is a most extraordinary thing that after all these months we have never yet debated Nigeria in the House? Is he suggesting that we should do so in the foreign affairs debate on a day supplied by the Opposition?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Member will remember that I played an important part in helping to arrange a debate on this matter because I felt that it was right that Nigeria should be discussed, and that was done. I am merely suggesting that there will be an opportunity on the day I have mentioned. The Opposition are quite right to choose this matter, since they may wish to raise many points and not just Nigeria.

Mr. Michael Foot

Has the Leader of the House paid proper attention to the statement made a few minutes ago by the Prime Minister that he had problems to deal with nearer home, when he was clearly referring to events in Northern Ireland? Will my right hon. Friend say whether that statement represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government? Will he give an assurance that there will be a debate before Christmas to discuss events' in Northern Ireland, where we believe that steps must be taken to protect the liberties of the people?

Mr. Peart

I am well aware of the views of many of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members about the importance of civic rights, where we have great responsibility. The business of next week must remain as I have announced it, but I will consider sympathetically my hon. Friend's request for a debate on Northern Ireland.

Mr. David Howell

is it fair to condemn the question which was raised by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) on the Estimates Committee as a matter of pessimism? Is it not a fact that, for reasons which appear to be related to the shortage of staff, and for other unclear reasons, the Estimates Committee has been cut down, therefore reducing control over the expenditure of the Government? Will the Leader of the House look again at this matter, which is of considerable importance?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of this. I merely suggested to my hon. Friend that he should not be too pessimistic. I hope that the hon. Member is not pessimistic. Other matters affecting Specialist Committees are also important to the House. We have to strike the right balance. I hope that the hon. Member will find this reasonable.

Mr. Rose

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the matter of Northern Ireland is no longer merely a question of civil rights; it is a question of the complete breakdown of law and order following the seizure by violence last week of Armagh? Will my right hon. Friend bear this in mind as a matter of extreme urgency?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of that. I know this area very well; in fact, my constituency is probably the nearest of any.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

If the Leader of the House wishes to strengthen the back benchers against the Executive, as he has on more than one occasion suggested, will he talk to his colleague about the present serious situation in Question Time, where Ministers, including the Prime Minister, do not answer Questions, and very often transfer Questions which they do not want to answer.

Mr. Peart

I always look at hon. Members' individual complaints. I have today written to an hon. Member on this matter. It is right that the ordinary Member of Parliament should have all the facilities that are offered by our Parliamentary system to check Ministers, Departments and the Executive. I believe fundamentally in that right, even though I was once a Minister on the executive side of the Government. I will do all I can. If the hon. Member will write to me, I will carefully look into any matters that he wishes to raise.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, by the time we resume at the end of January, several million people in Nigeria and Biafra may be dead? We have a specific responsibility in this area. We cannot accept the burying of this matter in a general "Cook's tour" of the world. Will he therefore seriously reconsider this matter?

Mr. Peart

I always try to help my hon. Friend. I know that he is very much interested in international matters. and especially in Nigeria, but I hope that he will not exaggerate——

Mr. Allaun

I am not.

Mr. Peart

There is a real problem. I believe that there will be opportunities in the time which I have allotted.

Mrs. Ewing

Will the Leader of the House say whether an informative statement about the Commission on the Constitution and its composition will be made before the Recess?

Mr. Peart

I will examine this, but perhaps the hon. Lady will have a word with me privately.

Mrs. Short

Has the attention of my right hon. Friend been directed to a scurrilous Motion, No. 69 on the Order Paper, which I regard as puerile, contemptible—

[That this House congratulates the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West upon his conversion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, on the subject of immigration policy.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady is not entitled to discuss the merits of the Motion. She may ask for it to be debated.

Mrs. Short

I am coming to that, Mr. Speaker, but I have to tell my right hon. Friend which it is. Will my right hon. Friend provide an opportunity next week to debate the Motion?

Mr. C. Pannell

On a point of order. I wish to draw attention to the Motion which has been mentioned. Now and again over the years hon. Members on both sides of the House appear to use the Order Paper for attacks upon their fellow hon. Members which do no good to the generality of the feeling that runs across the House. It is an exploitation of the Order Paper which should be condemned, and, I think, from the Chair.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman says. It is not without truth, but it is not a new feature of the Order Paper. Control of the kind of Motion set down on the Order Paper is in the hands of hon. Members.

Mr. Peart

If I may reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renêe Short), I have great sympathy with her. I would always like to see my hon. Friend in private—[Laughter.] If I may be permitted, Mr. Speaker, to reply without being facetious, may I say that I believe that my hon. Friend represents her constituency with great distinction and tries to represent the views of the community. I resent attacks on her personal integrity. I believe that she is a distinguished hon. Member of the House.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Will the Leader of the House give an early opportunity before Christmas to debate the Sixth Report of the Services Committee, since it touches on a number of points which are fundamental to the efficiency and work of this building and this Chamber?

Mr. Pearl

This is an important matter. I will look into it.

Mr. John Fraser

Will the Leader of the House find time for legislation on amendments to Section 39 of the Leasehold Reform Act, 1967? Such legislation is unlikely to be contentious, would have the support of both sides of the House, and would probably pass through the House very quickly.

Mr. Peart

I know that this is important, but I cannot find time for legislation within the next few days.

Mr. Carr

Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the First Secretary to make a statement without fail next week about what action she proposes to take to ensure within the building industry compliance with the incomes policy?

Mr. Peart

Yes, I will do so.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the question of having a debate upon the establishment of new Select Committees before they are announced by the Government? It is surely right that the House should have participation in this matter at least, since the House itself should decide which kind of Committees are desirable and what their membership ought to be.

Mr. Peart

I hope that my hon. Friend remembers that he took part in a debate on a Friday afternoon in which I put forward my views. I believe that the Government must make decisions. As soon as possible, I will make an announcement.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Minister of Public Building and Works to make a statement in the near future to correct the impression which he gave at Question Time on Tuesday that no representations have been made by the building industry to his Ministry against the retention of British Standard Time during the winter?

Mr. Peart

All our colleagues recognise that my right hon. Friend would in no way deliberately mislead opinion on this matter. I will look at the matter carefully. Perhaps I could write to the hon. Gentleman about it.

Mr. Lawson

Will the Leader of the House bear in mind that whatever private engagements he may have with the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) many of his hon. Friends and, I am sure, many hon. Members opposite are also anxious to know about the setting up of the Commission on the Constitution and that we wish to hear that information publicly and not have it privately announced?

Mr. Peart

I did not intend to convey to the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) anything which would be against the traditions of the House. I would obviously discuss with the usual channels any major statement on this issue. That, I think, is the right procedure.

Mr. Fisher

While I do not at all share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) on Nigeria, may I nevertheless ask whether the right hon. Gentleman does not agree that this is a subject worth debating per se and that the worst possible type of debate is a very confused, very wide-ranging, foreign affairs debate, which is totally unsatisfactory to all of us because it is so unspecific and so inconclusive?

Mr. Peart

I cannot add to what I have said. The hon. Member has a point of view on Nigeria which may be different from that of his right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser). The situation in Nigeria is important. If hon. Members feel that they should raise it because of the urgency which they see in it, there is no reason why they should not do so.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

May I put to my right hon. Friend the question which I put to him last week, when he said that he would consider finding time for a debate on monopolies and mergers, a subject in which many hon. Members on both sides of the House are very interested?

Mr. Peart

I am looking into that matter.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

While treating with scorn the misinformation supplied by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) on another subject, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would consider getting the Minister of Public Building and Works to make a statement in the House next week on misleading replies given in the House on Tuesday, concerning which the building industry has written to him?

Mr. Peart

I will look at this matter and will have a word with my right hon. Friend. I will get in touch over this matter in the normal way.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Reverting to the debate on foreign affairs next week, and in connection with the plea of my right hon. Friend, the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker), may I ask the Leader of the House to bear in mind that the war in Nigeria is different from other wars in that it is within the British Commonwealth of Nations and, therefore, should be discussed in the House? Will he make arrangements for that to be done?

Mr. Pearl

I am well aware of the point which my hon. and learned Friend made. He obviously feels very passionately about it. If he catches your eye during the debate next week, Mr. Speaker, no doubt he will have an opportunity to speak.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will the Leader of the House give Government time next week for the Second Reading of the British Standard Time Act (Repeal) Bill, in view of the general anxiety about this subject and the desire in all parts of the House that there should be a debate about it?

Mr. Peart

I am well aware of this problem, particularly in the North of England. I represent a Northern constituency. But I cannot go beyond what I said earlier.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Having regard to the coming debate on Northern Ireland, will the Leader of the House bear in mind that the very dangerous situation which has arisen there has been largely encouraged by mischief-makers who have gone over there, and that they may have blood on their hands?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member may only ask for time to debate or for no time not to debate.

Mr. Peart

I hope that the hon. and learned Member will restrain himself. A measure of hysteria on a matter of this kind is not becoming.

Sir Knox Cunningham

On a point of order. When I find a dangerous situation in which people may lose their lives, I have a right to say so to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a point, but not a point of order.

Mr. James Johnson

On a point of order. Am I in order, Mr. Speaker, in asking whether you can confirm that at the end of business questions the Leader of the House is leaving the Chamber to address the World Assembly of Parliamentarians in Geneva? In that event, may we wish him well?

Mr. Speaker

That is certainly not a point for business questions.