HC Deb 21 March 1968 vol 761 cc599-607
Mr. Heath

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business 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, 25TH MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Resolutions.

Motions on the Rate Support Grant (Increase) (Scotland) Order, on the Bootle (Extension) Order and on the Market Development Scheme (Extension of Period) Order.

Second Reading of the New Towns (Scotland) Bill [Lords], which is a Consolidation Measure.

TUESDAY, 26TH MARCH—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 27TH MARCH—Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, which under Standing Order No. 89 will be formal.

A debate on Rhodesia, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Teesside (Amendment) Order.

THURSDAY, 28TH MARCH—Motions On the Civil Defence (Revocation) and (Fire Services) Regulations, which it is hoped to dispose of by 8 o'clock.

Second Reading of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Consular Relations Bill [Lords] and of the New Towns (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY, 29TH MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 1ST APRIL—The business proposed is the remaining stages of the Health Services and Public Health Bill.

At 7 o'clock the Chairman of Ways and Means has set down Opposed Private Business for consideration.

Motion on the Lancaster Port Commission Revision Order.

Mr. Heath

Last week, the Prime Minister undertook to give us the fullest possible information that he could about the Rhodesian situation before the debate, including, if possible, the transcripts of the judgments in the courts. Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us when that White Paper will be available? Secondly, could he ensure that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs makes a statement next week about the position over the Falkland Islands, which is causing great anxiety? Thirdly, could the Prime Minister make a statement about the amalgamation of the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Affairs Office, which we understand is to take place but about which he has given no information to the House?

Mr. Crossman

With regard to the third point, I will communicate the right hon. Gentleman's request to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. As regards the Falkland Islands, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider the desirability of a statement. On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I do not think that it is the intention of the Prime Minister to publish a White Paper on the subject, but I will make sure that what information is available will be published in time for the debate.

Mr. Molloy

In view of the dangerous and far-reaching effects of the war in Vietnam, does not my right hon. Friend think that this House ought now to debate the situation?

Mr. Crossman

Yes. I am aware of the desire on both sides of the House to debate the Vietnam situation, but I cannot see any possibility of doing so in Government time next week. In the course of Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning, there is, of course, an opportunity for back-bench hon. Members to debate it in their own time.

Mr. Monro

Could the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a progress report next week on the repairs following the damage caused by the gales in Scotland?

Mr. Crossman

Certainly I will communicate the hon. Gentleman's desire to my right hon. Friend, but I cannot guarantee that a statement will be forthcoming next week.

Dr. John Dunwoody

In view of today's serious news from the Middle East and in view of Britain's legitimate and considerable interests in the region, could my right hon. Friend assure us that if there is a deterioration in the situation in the Middle East there will be an opportunity for an early debate?

Mr. Crossman

I must be careful about Government time next week. I do not see an opportunity in Government time, but, if there is a dramatic change in the situation, there are other opportunities now in our Standing Orders for making time available.

Mr. Bryan

Now that the Prices and Incomes Board has reported, will the Leader of the House tell us when the Postmaster-General will be announcing the rise in postal charges?

Mr. Crossman

I will put that request to the Postmaster-General, but I cannot give any answer today about it being next week.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Can the Leader of the House say when it will be possible to arrange a debate on aid possibly linked to the U.N.C.T.A.D. Conference which is apparently likely to break down?

Mr. Crossman

There will be opportunities on Tuesday evening for hon. Members to raise issues of this kind on the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, which is a regular time for that purpose. I cannot guarantee that we shall have Government time for that in the near future.

Sir F. Bennett

The right hon. Gentleman will have seen reports of the breakdown of the Anglo-Spanish talks on Gibraltar. May we expect a fairly early statement from the Foreign Office confirming or otherwise, with particular re ference to what this entails for Gibraltar's immediate constitutional development?

Mr. Crossman

I would not have thought that confirmation of that fact were needed, but I will ask the Foreign Secretary whether he has any information that he wishes to give the House about the circumstances of the breakdown.

Mr. Whitaker

Will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of a debate on the first Annual Report of the Parliamentary Commissioner?

Mr. Crossman

This is a matter we might well consider. I should like to discuss through the usual channels whether such a debate is desired. We had half a day on the Special Report of the Parliamentary Commissioner, but that would not exclude a debate on the full Annual Report.

Dame Irene Ward

Concerning the Falkland Islands, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the Government are not considering giving away Scotland and Wales at the behest of the United Nations?

Mr. Crossman

I think, without stretching myself unduly, I can give that assurance.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Will my right hon. Friend think again about the question of Government time for a debate on Vietnam? Does he not realise that there is widespread feeling on this side of the House that the Government should reconsider their policy on Vietnam?

Mr. Crossman

Yes. I am very much aware that there is keen desire for a debate on Vietnam. All I said was that I did not see any possibility of having a debate next week.

Sir T. Beamish

Regarding the Falkland Islands, surely it is not good enough for the Leader of the House to say he has considered the desirability of a statement next week. Is he aware that he said this last week and that there are a great many rumours flying around which are very worrying indeed? Can we be promised a statement next week?

Mr. Crossman

I am not sure about a statement. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will look at the Order Paper he will find that there are Questions down to the Foreign Secretary on this subject on Monday, 1st April.

Mr. Moonman

Will the Leader of the House confirm that, because of increasing agitation about the Wilson Report on the Bristol Siddeley inquiry, we will have a debate before Easter?

Mr. Crossman

I have every hope that we shall have time for a debate. I have not yet heard from the Chairman how the Select Committee is getting on, but we have an understanding that it will accelerate its business. I hope that it will complete its researches in time for a debate before Easter.

Mr. Pardoe

Will the Leader of the House promise to arrange for a debate before Easter on the Government's refusal of the recommendations of the South-West Economic Planning Council.

Mr. Crossman

I think that I can give a categoric denial to that suggestion.

Mr. Gardner

In view of the disgraceful attacks on the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, by certain sections of the Conservative Press, will my right hon. Friend undertake to publish, before next Wednesday, the Government's instructions on Rhodesia to our delegation at the United Nations?

Mr. Crossman

I will certainly bear that suggestion in mind.

I should like to add to the answer that I gave to the Leader of the Opposition. I gather that transcripts of the judgments have been conveyed today to the Opposition for transmission to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the desire for a full-dress debate on Vietnam is not confined to one side of the House? Does it not appear that from Thursday to Thursday he is brushing aside these requests? First, he says that it is not suitable for Government time, and then he says that it is not suitable for next week. May we have an early debate in Government time?

Mr. Crossman

I made it clear from the start that I recognised there was a demand from both sides. Members of the Opposition have their own time, and they could provide it if they wished. I think that there is a case for a debate in Government time before the Easter Recess, and I am still hopeful of it. But we have a large number of obligations to fulfil in Government time and I cannot give an absolute assurance.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Concerning the Rhodesian transcripts, did the right hon. Gentleman mean that he was making copies available only to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? Is he not aware that other right hon. and hon. Members wish to study these judgments and, if the debate is to be on Wednesday, it is necessary that they have them before the weekend?

Mr. Crossman

That is a wholly reasonable suggestion. I have in fact made arrangements for their transmission to the Opposition Front Bench, but I will try to arrange for copies to be placed in the Library in good time so that all right hon. and hon. Members can profit by them before the debate.

Mr. David Howell

Will the Leader of the House give particularly urgent attention to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) about the amalgamation of the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Affairs Office? Is it not extraordinary that such a major change in the Administration should be made without a word of explanation in the House?

Mr. Crossman

I thought that the question I was asked was when it would take place. I will certainly communicate to my right hon. Friend the interests which his announcement has created and the suggestion that it needs to be discussed.

Mr. James Johnson

Coming nearer home, can we be given any indication where in the Government's time-table my right hon. Friend has placed a debate on the future of the fishing industry?

Mr. Crossman

To be candid, I must admit that at present it is not slotted in for the immediate future.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when it is the Government's intention to have a debate on the Gittins Report on Primary Education in Wales?

Mr. Crossman

I am aware of the interest of the hon. Gentleman and the importance of the Report. It is one of those matters for which time is available for Welsh Members. However, I will consider the possibility of a debate on this in Government time, but I think not before the Easter Recess.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

On a point of order. Might I point out to the Leader of the House that the next meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee will be taken up with agriculture and we shall not have a chance for at least four months to discuss the matter?

Mr. Speaker

Order. One Member, one question.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Does the Leader of the House recall that the Select Committee on Science and Technology reported on nuclear power stations more than six months ago and we were promised an early debate? This report was hastened forward in response to a Government request and no debate has been forthcoming. Will he give some assurance that time will be found?

Mr. Crossman

I am aware of this. This is one of the difficulties about the experimental phase of Specialist Committees. I have been consulting the Minister of Technology, because he has proposals to put before the House. The question was whether we should debate both simultaneously. I should like to consult the Chairman of the Committee, because I am aware that it has been a long time. I still want a debate with the maximum effect. That means at the right time for the Government to say what their policy is as well as for us to hear the Committee's views. If I could discuss that with the Chairman I would be obliged.

Mr. Henry Clark

In view of the Chancellor's rather vague remarks about cigarette coupons in his Budget speech, could we be told when the Government will bring in legislation to abolish cigarette coupons, as the Minister of Health promised? An announcement would help the tobacco industry to plan its policy, even if it does not improve the nation's health.

Mr. Crossman

I can give the assurance that it will not be introduced in next week's Business.

Mr. Roebuck

In view of the great changes which have taken place in public opinion and opinion in this House since we last debated the Common Market in May, will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the Common Market?

Mr. Crossman

I will put this down in the list of foreign policy priorities which the House wants. If we are to put down Vietnam, the Common Market and the Middle East—three important subjects—the House will see my difficulty in finding time for everything.

Mr. Onslow

If, as is threatened, London sees a repetition this weekend of last week's disgraceful and riotous demonstration, may we have an early statement and full debate so that we may know next week what the Home Secretary's plans are to maintain order and peace in the streets?

Mr. Crossman

We had better wait and see what happens at the weekend. Meanwhile, I would again remind hon. Gentlemen that there are many hours next Tuesday in which such subjects can suitably be raised.

Mr. Shinwell

Do the Government regard the proposed merger of the Commonwealth Affairs Department and the Foreign Office as a matter entirely within their own discretion without the need to consult the House? Is it not a matter upon which the House should express an opinion?

Mr. Crossman

I shall communicate to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the views of my right hon. Friend about the desirability of a debate on this subject.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

As the right hon. Gentleman cannot find time for a debate on the Common Market, may I ask whether the Prime Minister will make a statement before the House adjourns for the Easter Recess on progress recently achieved?

Mr. Crossman

I shall put that suggestion to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Heath

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it has long been the tradition that any change in the departmental structure of Whitehall is formally announced to the House of Commons before it is made? What has happened at the moment is that, with the departure of the last Foreign Secretary late one night, the Prime Minister apparently told the Press that the two Departments were to be amalgamated, without anybody else having been told. What we are asking is for the Prime Minister to carry out his proper function and tell the House of Commons about the proposed change.

Mr. Crossman

That point of view has been expressed from both sides of the House. I shall communicate it carefully to the Prime Minister, and no doubt he will make a statement if he thinks fit.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker