HC Deb 07 March 1968 vol 760 cc660-73
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, 11TH MARCH—Supply (14th Allotted Day):

A debate on naval policy on an Opposition Motion.

Thereafter, the rule will be suspended for two hours for discussion of Vote A of the Navy Estimates, 1968–69.

TUESDAY, 12TH MARCH—Supply (15th Allotted Day):

The following Service Votes have been selected for debate:

Navy Votes 1, 4, 5, 8 and 9.

Army Votes 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Defence (Royal Ordnance Factories) Vote 1968–69.

Defence (Army) Purchasing (Repayment) Services Vote 1968–69.

Air Votes 2, 7 and 8.

I understand that it may be convenient to devote two hours to each of the three Services.

Afterwards, Motion on the Post Office.

WEDNESDAY, 13TH MARCH—Supply (16th Allotted Day):

Vote on Account of the Civil Estimates and Defence Central Estimates, 1968–69.

Debate on an Opposition Motion on the Government decision to lift the ban on imported beef.

Motions on the Calf Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme and the (Supervision and Enforcement) Order.

THURSDAY, 14TH MARCH—We shall ask the House to approve a Timetable Motion for the remaining stages of the Transport Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"]

FRIDAY, 15TH MARCH—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 18TH MARCH—Supply (17th Allotted Day):

A debate on a topic to be announced later.

The Question will be put from the Chair on all outstanding Votes.

Motions on the Income Tax Transitional Relief (Extension of Period) Orders.

Motion on the Police Pensions (Amendment) Regulations.

Prayer on the Thames Valley Police (Amalgamation) Order.

It may be convenient for me to remind the House that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budge: on Tuesday, 19th March.

The general debate on the Economic Situation and the Budget Resolutions will be continued on Wednesday and Thurs day, 20th and 21st March, and brought to a conclusion on Monday, 25th March.

FRIDAY, 22ND MARCH—The business will be consideration of Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Heath

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Standing Committee which is considering the Transport Bill has now discussed over 450 Amendments and covered 35 Clauses and five Schedules in 19 sittings, that the average time of discussion on each Amendment has been only 15 minutes, that the Conservative Opposition have taken less than 50 per cent. of the time of the discussion, that the Opposition at the beginning volunteered to sit three days a week, and that they have on three occasions since then offered to sit longer but the offer has been refused by the Minister of Transport, who is in charge? Is the Leader of the House therefore aware that the only reason which he can possibly have for guillotining this huge, controversial—

Mr. Michael Foot

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On many occasions you have reminded hon. Members that they should ask about time and not seek to advance arguments when they are called to ask supplementaries on the business statement. Since this matter is to be debated next week, will you not apply to the Leader of the Opposition the same rule that is applied to other hon. Members?

Mr. Speaker

I think that there is much in what the hon. Gentleman says. The Leader of the Opposition is, however, arguing as to why we should not take on Thursday the Motion which has been referred to.

Mr. Heath

Mr. Speaker, I am putting forward immensely powerful arguments as to why there should be very much more time than the Leader of the House is prepared to agree. I remind the Leader of the House that he is responsible for time in Committee just as much as he is responsible for time on the Floor of the House. Therefore, the only reason which he can put forward is that he has put ten—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."]—Bills into one and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is now getting into merits.

Mr. Heath

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I am asking the Leader of the House what possible—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Noise from either side does not help at all. Mr. Heath.

Mr. Heath

I am asking the Leader of the House what possible—

Sir A. V. Harvey

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recollect that two days ago you called Government back benchers to order on six different occasions. Today, because my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is making points that they do not like, they are creating a disturbance every time.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It would be an over-simplification of what happens in the House if the hon. Gentleman were to suggest that noise comes from only one side.

Mr. Heath

I am asking the Leader of the House what possible justification he can have for taking time during this coming week to guillotine the Transport Bill, other than the fact that he has put ten Bills into one and, through his own incompetence, could not start the Committee stage until January. Is he aware that we regard this as absolutely unjustifiable?

Mr. Crossman

I would not say that I was wholly surprised by the reaction of the Leader of the Opposition. He has put forward what he regards as powerful arguments. I prefer to reserve mine for next Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Ellis—Mr. Heath.

Mr. Heath


Mr. Ellis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the point of order. I shall call him. Mr. Heath.

Mr. Heath

Can the Leader of the House, if he cannot find any justification for the guillotine, tell us when we shall have the debate on the Bristol Siddeley Report? It would be much better to have that than to have the debate on the guillotine Motion.

Mr. Crossman

I have been discussing with the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee the statement he has made that he has decided to have a special investigation. He has assured me that it will not take long, and I am hoping that we can have our debate well before the Easter Recess. The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee cannot give me an absolute assurance as to how long his Committee will take. I thought, in view of his Committee's decision to hold this investigation, that we should postpone our debate until the Committee has completed its investigation.

Mr. Ellis

Can my right hon. Friend give us some more guidance as to how long the special investigation of the Public Accounts Committee is likely to take, when we can expect to have a debate on the Floor of the House, and whether the witnesses are likely to be recalled by the Public Accounts Committee.

Mr. Crossman

It is not for me to discuss the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee. I can only repeat to my hon. Friend that the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, although clearly he cannot commit his Committee, is hopeful of completing the investigations in time for us to have a full debate on the Floor of the House before the Easter Recess.

Mr. Turton

Why is not the Leader of the House using the procedure he himself devised in Standing Orders for timetabling Public Bills?

Mr. Crossman

If there is a strong demand from the Opposition, we shall be delighted to use a procedure which gives the House only two hours to debate the matter instead of what I propose.

Mr. Michael Foot

Will my right hon. Friend take into account that many of us in the House believe that it is extremely urgent that we should have a debate on Vietnam? Will he take into account that a few weeks ago more than 100 hon. Members on both sides of the House asked for an early day debate on this issue and, although the Opposition have retreated from this demand and have thereby devalued Early Day Motions, some of us were serious in tabling that Motion? Will my right hon. Friend give urgent consideration to having a general debate on Vietnam, when we can discuss what many of us regard as the most serious matter in the whole world at present?

Mr. Crossman

I gave some account of what business we shall be doing in the next fortnight. We have to deal with the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, and that will take us into April. I am hopeful at that time that we shall find time for some of the urgent topics, including Bristol Siddeley and Vietnam, which the House should and must debate.

Mr. G. Campbell

Can the Leader of the House tell us what precedent there is for imposing a guillotine on a Bill on which so far there has been no need to move a single Closure Motion in Committee?

Mr. Crossman

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should hold himself in patience until I introduce the Motion. [HON. MEMBERS: " Answer."] This is a business statement. I intend to explain the justification for the Timetable Motion when I move it on Thurday afternoon.

Mr. C. Pannell

Will the Leader of the House bear in mind that for at least the 19 years that I have been here all guillotine Motions follow a pattern of attack and defence in precisely the same sort of phrasing, whatever Government are in power, and we have now got to the point of tedious repetition? Will he, therefore, dispatch this in the shortest possible lime by a simple vote?

Mr. Crossman

No. I always reflect on suggestions about procedure which my right hon. Friend gives me. This is a guillotine Motion. There is certainly much to be argued, and I am greatly looking forward to the arguments when we start the debate next Thursday.

Mr. Thorpe

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that he is the Leader of the whole House on these occasions and, therefore, has an obligation to the House as a whole, not merely to one side? [Interruption.] Does he recollect that last week the House was asked to rush through a very important piece of legislation and there were complaints from all quarters of the House that there was inadequate time for debate? Do we take it that the chaos in that case has gone to the right hon. Gentleman's head? Since he is justifying this Measure, will he confirm that it is the longest and most intricate, except for the Finance Bills, to be introduced since the war, and that the Standing Committee, without any closures, has made the best progress of any Standing Committee this century?

Mr. Crossman

We had better wait until Thursday before discussing the merits of the Timetable Motion. I would only reply that the case for a timetable is to ensure that the debate is better organised, not worse.

Mr. Alfred Morris

As the debate on the Bristol Siddeley affair will mainly be about the workings of private enterprise, am I to understand that the Leader of the Opposition will be offering time for this matter?

Mr. Crossman

No. I have decided, on the whole, that the Government should offer time. This is a matter of great public concern which the Government are anxious to have debated.

Mr. Webster

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is his duty to protect the House against a most ill-digested Measure introduced half-way through the Session? He has failed. Nevertheless, he has a residuary duty to protect the right of a Standing Committee to debate it properly. He has failed and should resign.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, we shall be debating this on Thursday.

Mr. Milne

Arising from yesterday's statement by the Minister of Power on the pricing of North Sea gas, and bearing in mind the conflicting statements from the heads of the nationalised industries relating to power, can we expect an early debate on fuel policy?

Mr. Crossman

I do not see any prospect of a debate on fuel policy during the next fortnight. It will go into the list of priority debates which we must have at the beginning of April.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Reverting to next Thursday's debate on the guillotine Motion, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking not to introduce a guillotine Motion later for Report stage so as to avoid the constitutional impropriety of an Act being put on the Statute Book with large parts of it not subject to any Parliamentary debate or consideration

Mr. Crossman

The right hon. and learned Gentleman must await the terms of the Motion which I shall submit to the House next Thursday.

Mr. Swain

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, during the Committee stage of the Coal Industry Bill, the Minister of Power appealed to the House for the utmost speed in passing the Bill through all stages so that the benefits could be paid by Christmas? Will my right hon. Friend ask the Minister of Power to make an early start in presenting the Regulations to the House so that there is a possibility of the payments being made by next Christmas?

Mr. Crossman

I am not aware of any delay in the Regulations, but I think I should tell my hon. Friend that the necessary consultations with the unions are taking a little longer than expected.

Mr. John Hall

Would not the Leader of the House find it possible to meet the very important point put to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), a point which is shared by many of his hon. Friends, that we should have a debate on Vietnam by having it next week in place of the timetable Motion?

Mr. Crossman

It is a matter which I would seriously consider before decisively rejecting it.

Mr. R. W. Brown

Has the attention of my right hon. Friend been drawn to the B.B.C. broadcast this morning concerning his timetable on the Transport Bill? Is he aware of the travesty of the facts contained in that broadcast and will he ask the Postmaster-General to do something about putting those facts right?

Mr. Crossman

Yes, I am aware of the terms of the broadcast. As always, we should not believe all we hear on the B.B.C. or read in the Press.

Mr. Heath

Following the Lord President's answer to the last question—

Mr. Crossman

On the contrary, one might wait to hear what the Lord President has to say about the business for next week and not try to anticipate it on the basis of unauthorised rumours from other parts of the House.

Mr. Heath

I was attempting to ask the Leader of the House about his reply to my hon. Friend concerning giving further consideration to the debate on Vietnam next Thursday. I understand that he does not want to give arguments for a guillotine, but can he tell us why it is necessary to have a guillotine next Thursday? Perhaps he will tell us when he will make a fresh business statement announcing that we shall have a debate on Vietnam instead?

Mr. Crossman

I think the right hon. Gentleman must have misheard me. I said that I would consider the matter before decisively rejecting it. I said that I would explain next Thursday why, in my view, we have to have a timetable introduced straight away.

Dame Irene Ward

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he could find time next week to debate the advisability of him relinquishing his position as Leader of the House and letting us have somebody who would really reflect the opinion of the Leader of the House.

Mr. Crossman

The hon. Lady has been here long enough to know that there are ways and means of putting that suggestion to the House in the correct form.

Mr. Moyle

Can my right hon. Friend say when we are likely to get the long awaited and long promised debate on industrial mergers and their consequences?

Mr. Crossman

I think I must explain again, that I have stated the business for the next fortnight, and that subject is one which we must look for not earlier than the beginning of April.

Sir D. Renton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that four Regulations have already been laid by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland, respectively, following the Government's decisions about the future of Civil Defence, that two further Regulations will have to be laid by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, and that these six Regulations raise separate matters which should be debated separately? In arranging future business, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the need for providing sufficient time for them to be debated separately so that each is debated on its merits.

Mr. Crossman

I will give careful consideration to the idea that each should be debated separately. My own view was that the four on Civil Defence could be grouped together. Certainly they need adequate debate and I will give time for adequate debate.

Mr. Winnick

Can the Leader of the House tell us whether, in the next few weeks, we will be able to have the long awaited debate on Rhodesia, which is all the more important because of the crime committed yesterday?

Mr. Crossman

After the interchange following the Prime Minister's Answer to the Question, it seems clear that whether we debate Rhodesia will depend a good deal on events. Certainly if there is a case for debate the Government will not be reluctant to have one, but we must consider carefully whether it would be suitable.

Sir J. Eden

Is it not quite clear, since the right hon. Gentleman has failed to give a proper explanation of why he must hay e a guillotine Motion next week that whatever happened in Standing Committee the Minister of Transport would have forced this on him? In those circumstances, is he not guilty of complete betrayal of his position as Leader of the House?

Mr. Crossman

I gathered from hearing the B.B.C. this morning that the accusation was the other way round. However, neither is true. I have been watching the progress of the Committee very carefully, as it is my job, and I came to the conclusion that we should have a timetable now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] That is what we shall discuss next Thursday. I am answering questions on business, and next Thursday we shall have six hours to discuss this. That seems to me to be time enough.

Mrs. Renée Short

Why not two hours?

Mr. Judd

With reference to my right hon. Friend's answer to my hon Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick), would he not agree that as ultimate responsibility for everything that happens in Salisbury lies in this House we must have a debate on Rhodesia, and the sooner the better?

Mr. Crossman

I think that it is very probable that we shall need a debate on Rhodesia fairly soon. But I am not prepared to say more than to ask the House to study the interchange which took place after the Answer of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today. If that is looked at, people will realise why I am not prepared to commit myself precisely on a debate on Rhodesia now.

Mr. Hirst

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that, quite apart from the discourtesy involved, his attitude of refusing to recognise his responsibilities to the House as Leader of the House is inefficient in itself, and that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is perfectly right to draw attention to the size of the massive Transport Bill, notwithstanding which one-third of it has been got through in 19 sittings, which shows a high efficiency?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman can raise that point on Thursday in the debate.

Mr. Crossman

From my experience in the House, I think that discussions on timetables follow a fairly orthodox, routine course, whichever party is in power. Since the war, the Conservative Party has timetabled 15 Bills and the Labour Party 3.

Mr. Henig

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early Day Motion No. 187 on the Order Paper, in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) and other hon. Members? In view of the concern felt by many hon. Members that British arms are being used in the Nigerian conflict, and British interests are thereby making a profit from the continuation of this horrible war, will he find time very shortly for a debate on the Nigerian situation and the possibilities open for this country to hasten a peaceful settlement?

[That this House welcomes the support given by Her Majesty's Government to the peace initiatives taken by the Commonwealth Secretariat with a view to ending the Nigerian conflict, but urges that as a pre-condition Her Majesty's Government take all possible steps to prevent the supply of arms for use in the war in order to demonstrate genuine neutrality.]

Mr. Crossman

I can only tell my hon. Friend what I have said to other hon. Members, that I cannot hope to do it in Government time. If my hon. Friend can find opportunities of another kind, it is up to him to seek them.

Mr. Peyton

Is the Leader of the House aware that his last answer on the guillotine Motion, when he referred to the routine nature of the discussions, showed how superficial a study he had made of the problem? Is he aware that many of us think that it is a pity that he has not allowed his newly-emergent sense of shame about the Bill to lead him to withdraw it altogether rather than to seek to stifle discussion of it?

Mr. Crossman

I am aware that at Business time opportunities can be taken for putting over views which concern not only the timing of business, and the hon. Gentleman takes them. I prefer to retain my arguments for Thursday, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have the courtesy to come and listen to the case I shall then make on the timetable.

Mr. Peyton

There is no case.

Sir T. Beamish

Can the Leader of the House think offhand of any year since 1265 when Government business has been in a greater muddle?

Mr. Crossman

I could think offhand of a number of years. When I measure our chances of getting through our business by the summer holidays I see no reason for the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his family to be dejected about their summer holidays at present.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We should keep Simon de Montfort out of it.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Does the Leader of the House appreciate that by introducing the guillotine on Thursday he could ensure that parts of a Bill which could cripple Scotland will not be properly discussed? Is it not a constitutional outrage to use a means designed to protect again filibustering to prevent proper discussion of a Bill involving £1,900 million of public money introduced within two weeks of devaluation?

Mr. Crossman

The hon. Gentleman should wait and see the terms of the timetable Motion, the object of which will be to ensure that adequate discussion does take place.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that those of us on Standing Committee F considering the Transport Bill are rather concerned about the way in which some hon. Gentlemen opposite have preferred to make use of the two all-night sittings we have so far had not to make progress—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are on business questions at the moment.

Mr. Dean

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Early Day Motion No. 190, which points out the heavy damage which Government policy is inflicting on the economy of the South-West? Would that not be an excellent subject for debate next Thursday?

[That this House deplores the damage Her Majesty's Government has inflicted on the economy of the South-West by unemployment, the selective employment tax, discrimination against the tourist industry, defence cuts and transport legislation; further deplores the failure of Her Majesty's Government to implement any of the main recommendations of the Report of the South-West Economic Development Council which was published over seven months ago; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to take urgent action on these matters.]

Mr. Crossman

There is a long list of subjects which we should all like to debate on days we could choose, but I would not think that next Thursday would be the right day to debate that Early Day Motion. The signatories should study the terms of the Government's reply to the South-West Economic Development Council before suggesting that we have a debate.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

Is the Leader of the House aware that I was a member of Standing Committee E, which dealt with the Transport Act, 1962, and reached Clause 11 after 19 sittings? The Standing Committee on the present Transport Bill has reached Clause 38. In those circumstances, why is it necessary to have a debate next Thursday on the guillotine Motion when so many other urgent matters could come before the House?

Mr. Crossman

I hesitate to enter into the merits of the matter, but the two Bills are not pf precisely the same length. I suggest that we both reserve our discussion on this until next Thursday.

Mr. John Wells

As the finance available for the Agricultural Training Board runs out on 31st March, can the Leader of the House tell us when the Government intend to lay a new Order to enable that undesirable body to continue, so that we may pray against it?

Mr. Crossman

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman puts that question to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or gives me notice of it. I could not answer it off the cuff.

Mr. Wells

I should be out of order if I put it to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food because it belongs to the Minister of Labour.