HC Deb 23 May 1968 vol 765 cc870-84
Mr. Heath

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

The Lord Privy Seal and the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

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

MONDAY, 27TH MAY and TUESDAY, 28TH MAY—Progress on the remaining stages of the Transport Bill, which will be brought to a conclusion on Wednesday, 29th May.

THURSDAY, 30TH MAY—Lords Amendments to the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, and to the Industrial Expansion Bill.

Remaining stages of the Education Bill [Lords] and of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation Measure.

Prayer on National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) Regulations.

FRIDAY, 31ST MAY—The House will rise for the Whitsun Adjournment until Tuesday, 11th June.

Mr. Heath

It is now plain from the business statement that the Government propose to steamroller the guillotined Transport Bill through the House from 3.30 on Monday until lunchtime on Thursday—morning, noon and night. Is the Leader of the House aware that, at the same time, owing to his mismanagement of business, more than half the House will be sitting in Standing Committees or Select Committees and, therefore, unable to take any part in representing their views on the guillotined Transport Bill? This is what is making a mockery of the whole Parliamentary system and a farce of the House of Commons.

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept the extravagant language of the Leader of the Opposition, certainly not when he is a former Chief Whip. However, we have taken note of what has been said about the Transport Bill. I should like to take up something which hon. Members on both sides of the House asked me to consider. I have looked carefully at some of the Clauses which have raised controversy. I believe that the new Clause which was attacked only the other day does not raise any issue of principle, but is a machinery provision involving neither finance nor extension of public ownership. It brings into a joint subsidiary of British Railways a new trading corporation for services already in public ownership.

However, I am responsive to the feelings of the House and I know that the Opposition's chief spokesman on transport has been worried about this matter. Even though he now smiles, I treat it seriously. We propose to withdraw the Clause on Report and to consider how otherwise to achieve the same objective.

Mr. Victor Yates

Has my right hon. Friend seen Motion 298, which stands in my name and in the names of a number of my hon. Friends? [That this House is of opinion that the practice of giving precedence to Privy Counsellors and former Ministers in debate should be ended and that back benchers should have equal opportunity.] Is he aware that, owing to the intervention of Privy Councillors, not one hon. Member officially representing the trade union group, comprising 130 Members, was allowed to speak in the Prices and Incomes Bill debate? Is it not a matter of urgency, even for next week, to consider this increasing menace to the democratic rights of hon. Members?

Sir G. Nabarro

Hear, hear.

Mr. Peart

I hope that the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) will allow me to reply to my hon. Friend; the hon. Gentleman must recognise the courtesies of the House.

I have seen my hon. Friend's Motion and a similar Motion. I understand my hon. Friend's feelings, but I assure him that this is an expression of opinion. It is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, to decide.

Mr. Bessell

Is the Leader of the House aware that I welcome the removal of the controversial new Clause from the Transport Bill, but that there are still a number of other matters which were introduced very late in the Bill's progress? Will he make further representations to his right hon. Friend to see whether, for example, the Clause and Schedule on the Channel Tunnel can be removed?

Mr. Peart

I have dealt previously with the Channel Tunnel Clause and I cannot alter what I have said. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said about what I have done.

Mr. Moonman

Will the Leader of the House take some responsibility for the farce revealed during the Prices and Incomes debate earlier this week, when three Privy Councillors were called and he restricted the debate to one day?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members cannot argue merits. They must ask for time to debate what they consider to be important.

Mr. Peart

The answer to my hon. Friend is, not next week.

Sir J. Eden

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what Bills are to be taken in Standing Committee next week and on what days those Committees will be sitting and how many hon. Members will be involved in them?

Mr. Peart

I am speaking off the cuff, but I think that there will be the Prices and Incomes Committee and the Race Relations Committee.

Mr. Delargy

As we are still not to have a debate on Nigeria and arms are still going from this country to Nigeria, even this week when peace talks are supposed to have been started, may we have an undertaking from the Government that consignments of arms to Nigeria will be stopped until the House has been able to express an opinion on the matter?

Mr. Speaker

We cannot discuss policy; only ask business questions.

Sir J. Eden

On a point of order. I apologise for interrupting, but I did not hear what the right hon. Gentleman said. Would he repeat it?

Hon. Members: No.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It will help the House if hon. Members are quiet while the questions of others are being asked and answered.

Mr. Peart

My right hon. Friend answered a specific question about Nigeria last week, but I will convey to him what my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) has said. Indeed, my right hon. Friend is present.

In reply to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden); I was not attempting to mislead the House, but I should have said that there will be Standing Committees to consider the Prices and Incomes Bill, the Finance Bill and the Race Relations Bill.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

For the convenience of hon. Members and for the staff of the House, and to minimise stress and strain, can the Leader of the House tell us now whether the later parts of the sittings on the Report stage of the Transport Bill each day will be late at night or the following morning?

Mr. Peart

I am hoping to avoid very late sittings.

Dr. John Dunwoody

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the reintro-duction of prescription charges is an important and controversial matter? Is it not, therefore, unfortunate that the debate on it is to be short and is to take place late at night on the last day before the Recess? Could he not find a more suitable time for this important matter?

Mr. Peart

I know that my hon. Friend feels very strongly about this subject, but he will appreciate that this is not an affirmative but a negative instru- ment. I think that there will be adequate time for views to be expressed.

Lord Balniel

As the Minister of Health has said that the reintroduction of prescription charges will cause irredeemable harm to the National Health Service, is it right that we should have only one and a half hours in which to debate it?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman knows the procedure of the House. I deplore that argument.

Mr. Shinwell

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Minister of Power to make a statement in the House next week, before the Recess, on the subject of redundancy payments for miners? Is he aware that it is now six months since the Government decided on this provision and that nothing has been done to ensure that these payments are made expeditiously?

Mr. Peart

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for mentioning that. I referred to this subject myself in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain), on another occasion, when I said that the Minister of Power hoped to make a statement. There have been negotiations with the unions and the National Coal Board, but I will convey to my right hon. Friend the importance of making a statement. I expect it to be made next week.

Mr. Dean

Reverting to the debate on prescription charges, is the Leader of the House aware that the Lord President of the Council told the House in answer to a Business question on 16th January, and I have given the right hon. Gentleman notice of this point, that there would be a full day's debate on an affirmative Order? How does he explain the fact that we are having one and a half hour's debate on a Prayer?

Mr. Peart

I have already said that the Order is not an affirmative but a negative Instrument. I believe that with the guidance of Mr. Speaker there will be adequate debate.

Mr. Heath

On this question of the Prayer and the undertaking was given by the Lord President of the Council that there would be a full day's debate. We know that the present Leader of the House has repudiated every undertaking so far given by his right hon. Friend, but on this particular point, even if this is a negative Order, there is good reason, quite apart from political argument, for a full day's debate on its administrative provisions. They are of the utmost importance to everyone who will have to deal with them and get prescriptions. Will the Leader of the House therefore reconsider this matter and provide time for a full day's debate?

Mr. Peart

I have said, in reply to previous questions, what my view is on this. I still believe that there will be adequate time.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Since it affects so many families, and since we were told that the purpose of publishing the White Paper, Old Houses into New Homes, was discussion, may we have an undertaking that there will be a debate on this, at least before the end of July?

Mr. Peart

That is another matter. I will note what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. John Smith

If business should prove to be slack next week, may we have a debate on the Fourth Report of the Services Committee, which will enable us to discuss the functioning of Parliament?

Mr. Peart

Not during the very tight business of next week.

Dr. Summerskill

The Leader of the House has assured us that there will be adequate time on Thursday to discuss prescription charges. Would he say what he considers to be adequate time, in view of the number of other Measures which will precede it? Is he satisfied that half an hour or an hour is adequate for an extremely complex Order?

Mr. Peart

I would not have thought that the time my hon. Friend has mentioned would be adequate. I think that there will be adequate time

Mrs. Ewing

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he can devise a system whereby Members without Whips, such as myself, could receive the same notice of Business as other hon. Members? Also, can he say whether they could receive the all-party Whip, which seems a fairly non-secretive and innocuous document, but which, at the same time, contains vital information for all hon. Members, and which, last week, contained an invitation to me, extended by the Director-General of the B.B.C., who named me personally, and which invitation I never received because it was on the all-party Whip? Would he therefore make some arrangements to cover these matters?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Lady has a very valid point here. I have had communications, if I may admit it to the House, Mr. Speaker, with you on this matter. This applies to all minorities and all individual Members not in the major parties. I thought that an arrangement had been made. If it has not been, I will chase it up.

Mr. Heffer

Since we have the remaining stages of two Bills on Thursday, which will obviously mean that they could be exempted business, which, in turn, could mean that there would be no time at all for a debate on prescription charges, will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that this business will not be taken on that day, but that we will have a further discussion on this matter at a later date?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept my hon. Friend's view, or his advice. I am anxious that there shall be adequate debate. If I feel, after discussion with my hon. Friends, that time could be affected, I will certainly look at the point carefully.

Mr. Thorpe

Reverting to the business for next week on the Transport Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman's reply to the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), is he aware that whatever controversy may have raged round the Lord President of the Council, the House can be at least grateful to him for trying to reduce the number of late-night sittings in the House, for the convenience of hon. Members and staff? Could the right hon. Gentleman therefore say whether it will be his wish that the Adjournment shall be moved at midnight on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and that we will resume the following morning?

Mr. Peart

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said about my right hon. Friend. It is certainly true that we are anxious to avoid all-night sittings. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Mr. Speaker will decide how to divide the five hours, which each allotted day attracts after 10 p.m.—whether it should be taken in the evening or the following morning.

Mr. Dewar

Is the Leader of the House aware of the excellent progress being made with the Sale of Venison (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill? In view of this, is he prepared to say that the Government will give every assistance to ensure that this non-controversial Measure will reach the Statute Book?

Mr. Peart

I note with interest the progress of the Bill mentioned by my hon. Friend, but the answer is, "Not next week".

Mr. Hirst

May I assure the Leader of the House that I appreciate, as one concerned, his answer to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing)? May I assure him that I have had no difficulty in discovering Government business, in the waste paper baskets of the House?

Mr. Brooks

Would my right hon. Friend confirm whether the fears expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) a moment ago, are well founded? If what my hon. Friend said is true, is he aware that there is a distinct possibility that there will be no adequate time available for the debate on prescription charges and that this cannot be foreseen in advance? Would he not be well advised to reconsider this matter?

Mr. Peart

I have expressed my view. I have said that I will look carefully at this again. If there is any danger, I give my hon. Friends the assurance that I will remedy matters.

Sir A. V. Harvey

In view of his long experience here, would the Leader of the House look at this whole matter of the prescription charges debate again? He and the Government know perfectly well that they are tucking this in late at night so that there will be no proper discussion. Will the Government never learn to do the right thing?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Member knows that I have already answered this. I would simply be repeating myself to do so again.

Mr. John Lee

Would my right hon. Friend agree to refer to the Select Com- mittee on Procedure, and to allow a subsequent debate, the question of the Chair's discretion in the selection of minority Amendments, so as to relieve Mr. Speaker of the embarrassment created, for example, last Tuesday, when a lot of Amendments were on the Notice Paper, tabled by minorities, and were not selected?

Mr. Peart

I agree that this is a very important matter, but it is not one which will be in the business for next week.

Mr. Marten

The right hon. Gentleman has said that he will consider the question of the debate on prescription charges again. What he has not said is that he will make a statement next week. May we have that assurance?

Mr. Peart

No. If I think that business should be altered or changed in any way I will do so. We must wait and see.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Again, I remind the House that we have a lot of business to get through.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

In view of the business which the Leader of the House has laid out for next week—

Mr. Pavitt

On a point of order. In view of the fact that the Prayer which has caused a considerable amount of discussion is in my name, is it not appropriate that I should be given the opportunity of questioning the Leader of the House on the timing for next week?

Mr. Speaker

I have not deprived the hon. Gentleman of that opportunity. He must be patient.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

In view of the business that the Leader of the House has made out for next week, is it not clear that for the second week running hon. Members will be meeting round the clock and trying to be in several places at the same time? How can we be expected to represent the interests of our constituents in these circumstances? Will the Leader of the House tell some of his right hon. Friends to provide adequate time for discussion of their Bills? If he will not, has the time not come when hon. Members will have to withdraw their labour?

Mr. Peart

If the hon. Member wishes to withdraw his labour, he knows what to do.

Mr. Pavitt

Is the right hon. Gentleman so ashamed of reversing Labour Party policy and including Tory Party policy that this is being sneaked through at 10 o'clock next week? What consideration has been given to the representations I made through the proper channel, the Parliamentary Labour Party Liaison Committee, on behalf of 150 of my back-bench colleagues for a day's debate? Will he, even at this late hour, still consider giving adequate time for this debate?

Mr. Peart

I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no attempt on my part to sneak through this Order.

Mr. John Hall

Is the Leader of the House aware that the members of the Committee considering the Finance Bill were very appreciative of his presence there in the early hours of this morning, and would he not agree, from his experience of that Committee, that the experiment of sending the Finance Bill upstairs has been a complete failure? Would he not drop some of the minor legislation which is cluttering the Floor of the House and bring the Bill back on the Floor?

Mr. Peart

I am grateful for the opening remarks of the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that we should yet come to a final conclusion about the Finance Bill.

Mr. Mendelson

Would my right hon. Friend not be influenced, in looking at the time allowed for the debate on the return of prescription charges, by any persistent noises from the other side, but look at the Order on its own merit? Will my right hon. Friend take note that this is a major change of policy by this Administration and that, therefore, adequate time must be provided to debate it? Finally, might I recall to his mind that when he was urged to provide more time for the debate on the Prices and Incomes Bill he made an attempt to do so and was turned down.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot have inquests in business time.

Mr. Peart

I have taken note of my hon. Friend's remarks, but I have nothing to add. I would only be repeating myself.

Mr. Ramsden

Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government propose to make a statement on Armed Forces' pay before the Whitsun Recess? If, not, what are the reasons for the unprecedented delay?

Mr. Peart

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the reason for the delay has been the consideration of this matter by the Prices and Incomes Board. I did reply to the right hon. Gentleman on this before. I hope very soon, perhaps next week, that we may have a statement, but I shall have to look at this again.

Mr. Lawson

On a point of order. Is it not time that we got on with the rest of the business?

Mr. Speaker

No hon. Gentleman can control the business of the House.

Mr. Lawson

Further to that point of order. Since the interests of all Members are to be looked after here, may we ask now that we get on with the rest of the business for today?

Mr. Speaker

I have delicately conveyed those sentiments to the House earlier.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

On a point of Order. Is it not a fact, Mr. Speaker, that you are placed in difficulty, as are Members who are anxious to get on with the business, because the House of Commons and every hon. Member in it at the moment are placed in a situation in which we cannot function and do our job as the assembly—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I regret the inability of the hon. Gentleman to function, but that is not a point of order.

Mr. Molloy

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, in addition to the political arguments apropos the prescription charges, he will consider that the Order which will be before us will affect every sick man, woman and child in the country, and will have complications that we have—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman cannot enter into a debate; he can only ask for a debate.

Mr. Molloy

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will look at this ques- tion and make very certain that the time that has been allocated is increased to a whole day for a vital matter which is of interest to everybody in the country?

Mr. Peart

I have already given my answer to that.

Sir J. Langtord-Holt

On 9th May the right hon. Gentleman informed the House of the dates of the Whitsun Recess and last week he put down a substantive Motion. Every Member of the House knows perfectly well that up to three weeks' notice is necessary to get a Question down to a Minister on any day, and until this morning it was only possible to give four days' notice by virtue of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had not made arrangements for the order of Questions to be published beyond 30th May. This affects the rights of all Members of the House. Will he undertake that in future this list will be published at least three weeks beforehand?

Mr. Peart

Actually, there have been some alterations. The hon. Member will be informed about these through the usual channels. But I agree that it is important.

Mr. Lipton

In view of the overwhelming public support for my Bill to end stag-hunting, aptly described as "the sport of kinks", will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that as soon as may be after the House resumes after Whitsun he will provide Government time to enable the Bill to reach the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Peart

I am answering on next week's business and the answer is, "Not next week".

Mr. Webster

Has the Leader of the House seen Motion No. 288, on the abuse of the Guillotine and the tacking, after a time-table Motion, of new Clauses to the Bill? Has he seen that this is signed by 130 Members, including hon. Members of all four Opposition parties, and, if so, would he now refer it to the Select Committee on Procedure?

[That this House deplores the practice of applying the guillotine to major legislation in a manner calculated to prevent discussion of large numbers of contentious Clauses and the further tacking on to such legislation of major new Clauses after a timetable has been enforced; and resolves that this practice be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure.]

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the Motion but do not think that I can do that.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Has the Leader of the House seen the Motion on staff relations in the steel industry standing in the names of some of my hon. Friends and myself? Is he prepared to give early consideration to a debate on the subject, so that the threatened industrial stoppage may be averted?

[That this House draws attention to the serious danger of a dislocation of steel production resulting from the refusal of the British Steel Corporation to recognise, and negotiate nationally with, trade unions which have significant membership in the supervisory, technical and clerical grades.]

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the strong feelings of the hon. Members who have signed the Motion. There is no time next week, but I will note what my hon. Friend has said.

Sir F. Bennett

A few weeks ago we were told by the Leader of the House that the Standing Committee on Race Relations would sit at the same time as the House was sitting. His right hon. Friend the Home Secretary afterwards very courteously gave way on that point. Will the right hon. Gentleman now say which Ruling I am to abide by for next week?

Mr. Peart

I was not aware that my right hon. Friend gave a decision for next week, but there will be a meeting in the mornings next week. However, if there is any difficulty and the hon. Member will have a word with me, I will have a word with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Leadbitter

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to column 1625 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, dated 16th January, 1968, when I asked the previous Leader of the House about the nature of the debate on prescription charges? The previous Leader of the House gave me this undertaking: … I believe that there has to be an affirmative Order and I assume that there will be a full day's debate on that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th January, 1968; Vol. 756, c. 1625.] Will my right hon. Friend honour that undertaking?

Mr. Peart

I said that the Order was not an affirmative but a negative instrument. I am advised that that is the case. I have said that I will do my best in the matter.

Mr. Kirk

May I revert to the answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden)? The right hon. Gentleman said that only three Standing Committees would be meeting next week. Does that mean that Standing Committee G, considering the Civil Aviation Bill, which has twice had to adjourn prematurely in some confusion this week, will not be meeting next week?

Mr. Peart

As far as I am informed, no, but I will follow up the matter. I could not give an answer off the cuff.

Mr. Heath

Does that mean that every other Standing Committee except those three will be abandoned next week?

Mr. Peart

No, not at all. All Standing Committees which meet in the morn-ning will continue in the same way.

Mr. Corfield

Are we to assume that discussion on the Civil Aviation Bill, which has been adjourned twice, is now adjourned sine die and that there will be no meeting next week?

Mr. Peart

I am informed that the Committee will be sitting in the morning.

Mr. Hooson

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind Motion 271, signed by 117 hon. Members of all parties, on conservation of the ocean floor?

[That this House believes the time has come to declare the deep ocean floor conserved as a common heritage of mankind, and that steps be taken to draft a treaty embodying inter alia the following principles:

that the seabed beyond the limits of present national jurisdiction,

  1. (a) be conserved against appropriation by nations or their nationals so that the deep ocean floor should not be allowed to become a stage for competing claims of national sovereignty
  2. (b) be explored in a manner consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations
  3. 884
  4. (c) be exploited economically or made use of with the aim of safe guarding the interests of mankind
  5. (d) be conserved exclusively for peaceful purposes in perpetuity.]
Would the right hon. Gentleman give time for a debate on the Motion this Session, as this matter has already been debated in the United Nations and is arousing general interest throughout the world?

Mr. Peart

Not next week.