HC Deb 29 February 1968 vol 759 cc1760-6
Mr. Heath

May I ask the Leader of the House, whom we welcome back, 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, 4TH MARCH, and TUESDAY, 5TH MARCH—Debate on a Government Motion to approve the White Paper on Defence (Command No. 3540).

At the end on Monday, Prayer on the White Fish and Herring Subsidies (United Kingdom) (Amendment) Scheme.

At the end on Tuesday, Motion on the Weights and Measures (Additional Metric Weights) Order and Prayer on the Fees for Game and other Licences (Variation) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 6TH MARCH—Supply (12th Allotted Day): Army Estimates, 1968–69, Vote A.

THURSDAY, 7TH MARCH—Supply (13th Allotted Day): Air Estimates, 1968–69, Vote A.

FRIDAY, 8TH MARCH—Private Members' Motion.

MONDAY, 11TH MARCH—Supply (14th Allotted Day): Navy Estimates, 1968–69, Vote A.

On Wednesday and Thursday, 6th and 7th March, and Monday, 11th March, the rule will, in accordance with recent precedents, be suspended for 2 hours. Until 10 o'clock on those day the debates will arise on Opposition Motions related to the appropriate Service Departments.

Mr. Heath

First, may I confirm, as the Leader of the House has said, that our Motions down for the three days on the Estimates will be closely related to the appropriate Services? Secondly, perhaps the Leader of the House will now be aware of the statement made by the Minister of Technology yesterday, which was of a very serious kind. We on this side believe that the House would wish to take full advantage of the Minister's suggestion for a debate at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps the Leader of the House could indicate when he thinks this will be possible.

Mr. Crossman

I read in HANSARD what had happened. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend said. It is difficult at this time to know exactly when we can have the debate. The matter is not sub judice. It is entirely up to us when we can debate it. I would like to take it as soon as we possibly can, bearing in mind the pressure we have with defence debates and the Budget work.

Mr. Heath

We appreciate that the matter is not sub judice. On the other hand, there are matters of the gravest national interest involved, as well as important matters affecting individuals and the firm. We would therefore like the right hon. Gentleman to give this matter a high priority in his arrangement of Government business.

Mr. Crossman

I merely wanted to make it clear that there was no reason at all why we should not debate the issue. It is simply a matter of the convenience of the House when we can find time to debate it.

Mr. Alfred Morris

May I stress the very great desire for a debate at the earliest possible moment on the Bristol Siddeley affair? As it was not just civil servants but a Select Committee of the House which was intentionally misled, can my right hon. Friend guide the House on what remedy Members of the House have?

Mr. Crossman

We are discussing the business for next week. The question of what the Public Accounts Committee does or does not do is up to that Committee and not to me. I was asked about a debate. I emphasise again that I think that it is of the greatest importance to have a debate, since very serious issues are raised.

Mr. Ellis

I want to press my right hon. Friend on the matter of the Wilson Report. This is of the gravest urgency. Many of my constituents who have worked for this firm in the past—the firm is now amalgamated—feel very intensely about it. Their jobs and their livelihood are at stake. We want to clear the aircraft industry, but we are quite sure that the guilty men must suffer.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate the Report at the moment.

Mr. Ellis

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm. He must, however, ask for time for a debate.

Mr. Ellis

Sir, I believe that we should take urgent action. How soon can we get a debate so that the Public Accounts Committee may take action on the Report, because I believe that it was misled?

Mr. Crossman

I think that my hon. Friend is under a delusion. What the Public Accounts Committee does or does not do about the issue which affects it is very much for it to discuss on its own. The other major issues are issues of national importance about the conduct of the firm. This is what the House should discuss. We have now got into the season of our Defence Estimates and Supply Days, which we have to get through. After that we have the Budget coming along. I will seek as far as humanly possible to get in debates, but there is very little Government time now and we must do our best.

Mr. Bryan

When can we expect a debate on the Report of the Select Committee on the Post Office and on the White Paper on the Reorganisation of the Post Office, which are both now a year overdue?

Mr. Crossman

If it is for the convenience of the House, I think, that we might have at the beginning a short debate—say, of an hour and a half or so—on the understanding that we find time later on when it is more convenient. If that would suit the House, it would suit us as well.

Mr. Atkinson

In view of the serious revelations and the controversial proposals contained in the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, will my right hon. Friend confirm his earlier promise that we can debate the Report before Easter?

Mr. Crossman

Yes; I see no reason why we should not. I think that there is time before Easter, but I am still awaiting the replies of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology to a number of statements made in the Report. It is on the basis of the Report and the replies that the debate will take place.

Mr. Onslow

Can the Leader of the House clear up two points about the Wilson Report? First, will he confirm that the House may proceed to debate this irrespective of whatever the Public Accounts Committee may or may not decide to do? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman understand that it is very important indeed that we should have some assurance about debating it before Easter?

Mr. Crossman

I have already told the House that it is for the House to debate the issues raised in the Wilson Report and for the Committee on Public Accounts to make up its own mind on its own affairs. There is no doubt about that. I hope that we shall be able to find time to debate this matter before Easter, but I remind the House that we have the business to get through. I will discuss this matter through the usual channels, appreciating that both sides want to debate the Report.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Will my right hon. Friend regard it as an urgent matter to provide time for the discussion of two matters relating to Welsh affairs, namely, the Gittins Report on Primary Education in Wales and the White Paper on the Reorganisation of Local Government in Wales which was published as far back as last summer?

Mr. Crossman

I have borne in mind the problem of the White Paper on the Reorganisation of Local Government in Wales. I will certainly keep it in mind, though I do not think that it is one of those things to which I can give top priority. The Report on Primary Education in Wales is also an extremely important document and we must see when we can find time to debate it.

Sir C. Osborne

As next week's business will involve the consideration of spending over £2,000 million, and as the House cannot really debate the matter properly unless it knows the actual economic facts of the nation—whether it can afford it—would the right hon. Gentleman press the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give us before those debates the facts he has given to the I.M.F., so as to let us know what our real position is?

Mr. Crossman

I will communicate that message to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Swain

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the Minister of Power intends to make a statement next week about the Regulations under the Coal Industry Act, 1967? If not, will my right hon. Friend once again draw the Minister of Power's attention to the grave urgency attaching to this matter?

Mr. Crossman

I shall be delighted to bring that to my right hon. Friend's attention. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend will make the statement as soon as he can.

Mr. Orme

Returning to the Bristol Siddeley affair—I see that my hon. Friend winces, but this is a very important matter—will he consult the Leader of the Opposition to see, as right hon. and hon. Members opposite are anxious for a debate, if some time might be provided by them in conjunction with the Government? When the Government wanted to find time for the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill they did so, and as we sat on Tuesday morning, is my right hon. Friend saying that the House cannot find time to discuss this important matter?

Mr. Crossman

On the contrary, I am in no way suggesting that the House could not find time. I only warned the House that we have a great deal of top priority subjects to deal with in our Defence Estimates and Budget debates, and I said that once one had made that priority this was the debate which both sides of the House clearly felt to be the most important of the newer things which confronted us.

Mr. Murray

As the Hawker Siddeley affair made the Great Train Robbery look like chicken feed, if my right hon. Friend cannot give us a debate on Hawker Siddeley—[HON. MEMBERS: "Bristol Siddeley."]—Bristol Siddeley—could he give us something—

An Hon. Member

It is not Hawker Siddeley at all.

Mr. Murray

I corrected myself and said "Bristol Siddeley".

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not intervene on his own Business question.

Mr. Murray

If we cannot have a debate on Bristol Siddeley, can we have something which would be just as relevant—a debate on the Estimates Committee's Report on Prisons?

Mr. Crossman

I think that we should keep the two separate as far as possible.

Mr. Longden

Is the right hon. Gentleman fully seized of the importance of this matter? It is exactly because the Wilson Report is not sub judice—though why it is not I have not found anybody to tell me—that it is so important that we should immediately have a debate.

Mr. Crossman

I was aware of its importance. I found a study of the Report extremely interesting.

Mr. Pavitt

In view of the impending visit of U Thant, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the admiration most hon. Members have for his tireless efforts to stop the war in Vietnam, will my right hon. Friend seek to arrange for both Houses of Parliament to meet him?

Mr. Crossman

That is a suggestion which I think, Mr. Speaker, it would be for you to consider in the first place. But certainly if that is my hon. Friend's wish I shall bear it in mind.

Mr. Heffer

In view of the reports emanating from France about a possible chance of discussions between America and the North Vietnamese about Vietnam, and as there has been a great escalation of the war, will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that we shall have an early debate on the question of Vietnam?

Mr. Crossman

I do not think that I can add anything to what I said last Thursday on the subject of priority debates. We now recognise that there is more than one subject that we want to debate. Vietnam is certainly one, but I can go no further than I did last week.

Mr. Boston

Will my right hon. Friend say when we shall have a state ment about the form of the inquiry into the third London Airport? There is a need for an early statement about when it will be set up and start taking evidence, so that people in the areas concerned will know exactly what the position is.

Mr. Crossman

I cannot make any statement about that this week, nor would I expect it to be in next week's business statement.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Can the Leader of the House explain why it always seems possible to find time for urgent matters like the Wilson Report but it is never possible to find time for the pressing question of the reform of Parliament in Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Crossman

If I remember rightly, we had a most illuminating Liberal Ten-minute Rule Bill last week—a whole 10 minutes devoted to the subject.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Since we are due to have a statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on Monday on the future of the ban on meat from countries where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic, and on Wednesday we are due to have the Annual Price Review, can the Leader of the House tell us when both those matters will be debated? Both will require to be debated urgently.

Mr. Crossman

We had better confine ourselves to the busines of next week. The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the Price Review statement will come on Wednesday and the foot-and-mouth disease statement on Monday. We had better hear them first and then we can discuss what to do about them.

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