HC Deb 30 May 1968 vol 765 cc2148-63
Mr. Heath

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business of the House for the first week after the Whitsun Recess?

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

Yes, Sir. The business for the first week after the Recess will be as follows:

TUESDAY, 11TH JUNE—Progress on the remaining stages of the Gaming Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 12TH JUNE—Remaining stages of the Gaming Bill, which it is hoped to complete by about 7 o'clock.

Motion on Harbours (Exchequer Loans and Grants).

THURSDAY, 13TH JUNE—Remaining stages of the Gas and Electricity Bill. Lords Amendments to the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

FRIDAY, 14TH JUNE—Remaining stages of the Education Bill [Lords] and of the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Amendment Bill.

Motions on the Double Taxation Relief Orders relating to Antigua, Cyprus, Dominica, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Portugal, Gambia, Malawi, St. Lucia and St. Vincent.

Motion relating to Redundant Mine-workers (Payments Scheme) Order.

Mr. Heath

As we understand that the Government are refusing to allow us to take the prices and incomes Prayer on Tuesday, 11th June, will the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that he will provide time for us to debate this on a Motion and that sufficient time will be allotted for it to be debated properly?

Second, what steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to prevent the House from ever again having to endure the chaos which we have faced this week?

Mr. Peart

On the first matter, I certainly give that assurance. On the second question, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, after all I have said, will not exaggerate. He should approach these matters in a more relaxed fashion.

Mr. Swain

I thank my right hon. Friend for providing time to discuss the Regulations under the Coal Industry Act. Is he aware that the last three debates affecting the lives of men in the mining industry have taken place at very inconvenient hours? This debate will apparently take place on an inconvenient day. Would he guarantee that the preceding proceedings will be dealt with expeditiously so as to allow maximum time to debate this very important subject?

Mr. Peart

I will do all I can to achieve this. I thought that my hon. Friend welcomed this arrangement.

Sir Frank Pearson

Will the writ for the Nelson and Colne by-election be moved before we return after Whitsun?

Mr. Peart

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. I do not usually answer this at Business question time.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Would my right hon. Friend find time at an early date for a debate upon my Motion No. 325:

[That this House views with disfavour the proposal to disband certain distinguished Scottish regiments, in particular the Gordons and Argylls, both of which have close family and other connections with Aberdeen and other places in north-east Scotland from which those regiments draw their members and upon which places their gallantry and military distinctions shed glory; and calls upon the Government to allow these regiments to continue their patriotic work.]

which is urgent, is designed to stop an impending action by Her Majesty's Government, is of great interest to many people in Scotland and is appropriately entitled, "The Glorious Gordons and Argylls"?

Mr. Peart

I have noted my hon. and learned Friend's remarks and his Motion. I agree that we should pay tribute to two very fine regiments, but I cannot find time when we return.

Mr. Blaker

Although it may be true that the present Leader of the House does not usually answer questions about by-elections, would he not take into account the fact that parliamentary representation in Nelson and Colne is urgently needed and that the people there are feeling neglected? Would he get on with it?

Mr. Peart

The Government will. The hon. Gentleman should not worry.

Mr. C. Pannell

My right hon. Friend will know that the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege laid its Report before the House last December and that, since then, I have several times raised this with his predecessor and now with him? In view of the fact that, whenever privilege comes up, it renders the House open to attack because of practices which are now out-dated and too old, will he actively consider this Report to see whether it is possible to sort out from it those parts which do not need legislation, so that the House may have an early debate with a view to abolishing privilege as we once knew it?

Mr. Peart

I agree that this is a very important matter. Indeed, events have shown that privilege is still in our minds. I give the assurance that I will actively consider the Report and also my right hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

In view of the public concern about the rôle of Parliament in their lives and the great changes made in the lives of ordinary citizens by the Transport Bill, the Prices and Incomes Bill and the Finance Bill, would the right hon. Gentleman consider publishing a White Paper explaining to the people why that many of their elected representatives were unable to speak and, in some cases, unable to vote on matters of this importance to the country?

Mr. Peart

I am sorry, but I have replied to the hon. Member before, and he has accused me of being totalitarian and a drawing-room storm trooper. I think that the hon. Gentleman should follow the advice I have just given his Leader, and relax.

Mr. Victor Yates

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will now provide time for a discussion of Motion 298 standing in my name and that of 151 hon. Members on both sides of the House, representing all parties? Last week, the Minister, in replying to me, said that the question of the selection of speakers was a matter for the Chair. May I, with respect, and open to correction if necessary by you, Mr. Speaker, refer him to the Report of the Select Committee on Privilege of 19th September, 1959, in which it is clearly stated that the Chair is bound to give automatic priority to Privy Counsellors in both debate and Parliamentary Questions?

[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.]

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is drifting away on to the merits of the matter. He can ask for a debate.

Mr. Yates

I am asking whether the Leader of the House will now realise the importance of debating the democratic right of hon. Members to debate unimpeded by this out-moded procedure.

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend has communicated his view to me and I know he feels strongly on this subject. It may be that we should have a debate on matters of the kind that he has mentioned, but I could not find time for such a Motion in the week after next, but I will look into the matter.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the great feeling about Biafra generally in the House and could he impart to his colleagues the idea that it is now really necessary for some Red Cross action to be taken on refugees, and could he try to see that a statement is made to the House, when we return, on what action the Government have succeeded in taking?

Mr. Peart

I will convey the views of the right hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary. He did make a statement on this, but I will communicate to him immediately the specific point made by the right hon. Gentleman about the Red Cross.

Mr. E. Rowlands

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are very disappointed that, again, he has not provided time for a debate on the Report of the Estimates Committee on Prisons? There have been statements by Ministers on policy as well as important statements by the Prison Officers' Association; and the only people who have been unable to debate it are hon. Members. Will my right hon. Friend not give a full day's time to debate this very important Report?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend knows the history of this matter. I cannot find time for a debate on this subject in the week after next.

Mr. Godber

In view of the serious economic problems confronting the fishing industry, and the wholly inadequate reply of the Government in a recent debate, can the right hon. Gentleman promise an early statement by the Government when we return?

Mr. Peart

I cannot say specifically when there will be a statement, or what will be done, but, obviously, my right hon. Friend who is responsible for this industry has given this urgent consideration.

Mr. Shinwell

Would my right hon. Friend reconsider his decision on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Yates) on the subject of Privy Councillors? Is he aware that I have submitted an Amendment to the Motion which provides that all hon. Members should become Privy Councillors? Would not that be a simple solution?

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman is drifting into the merits. He must ask for time for discussion of his Amendment.

Mr. Peart

I do not think that my right hon. Friend's Amendment would be a simple one. I cannot find time for it in the week after next.

Mr. Peyton

Are we to take it, from the repeated advice given to us by the Leader of the House to relax a bit, that his handling of the business of the House is to be such, in contrast to that of his predecessor and to last week, that this will be possible?

Mr. Peart

I would only say to the hon. Gentleman that I myself am a rather relaxed personality. I do not believe in panicking, or in getting involved in hysteria or the exaggerated views of the kind with which I am sometimes confronted. I hope that the hon. Member has a very good holiday.

Mr. English

In view of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), will my right hon. Friend remember that he may wish to allow us to discuss the Report on Privilege, but that it would be extremely difficult, in view of the many members of that Committee, to separate what can be done by Resolution of the House from what can only be done by legislation? Will he take care on this issue?

Mr. Peart

This is a very complicated matter. I can only say I cannot find time for such a debate the week after next.

Dame Joan Vickers

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has seen the Motion on Private Members' Bills, whether he realises that during the last three days we have worked harder, for longer hours and with less freedom than many inmates of Broadmoor or Dartmoor, and that the only freedom left to hon. Members is the expression of our views on Private Members' Bills on a Friday? Would he look into the fact that the Government Whips are now officially objecting to Private Members' Bills?

[That this House deplores the action of the Government Whips concerning their treatment of Private Members' Bills, and the manner in which they can object to bills which they do not favour, instead of allowing Members to decide on the merits of the individual bills.]

Mr. Peart

The task of the Government has been to help private Members in the best sense. I recognise that hon. Members on both sides have worked very hard during the last three weeks.

Mrs. Renée Short

Further to my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Rowlands) about time to debate the Report of the Estimates Committee on Prisons, is my right hon. Friend aware that this Report was presented to the House last August, that that is almost one year ago and that it is high time this House had an opportunity to discuss it? Will he reconsider the answer he gave to my hon. Friend?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of this, but my hon. Friend knows the history. There was an opportunity. I cannot find time during the week in which we come back.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

While understanding the bland use of the word "relaxation" on the lips of the Leader of the House when the Government are about to have a slight respite from the House of Commons, will he perhaps take it from me that those who have been here for a very long time, and have been through many stressful periods in Parliamentary life, feel that there was something peculiarly disgusting in the chaos to which the Government reduced the House last week, and that the casual use of the word "relaxation", will be much resented in relation to my right hon. Friend and those whom he leads, representing the overwhelming body of opinion in the country?

Hon. Members: Oh.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I want to hear the business question.

Mr. Peart

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman feels so sensitive. I did not want to be in any way offensive to his right hon. Friend. If I was I apologise; but I thought I was giving sound advice which I hope he takes.

Mr. Dickens

In view of the mounting anxiety felt throughout the country over unemployment caused by company mergers in the private sector, would my right hon. Friend provide time soon after the Recess for a debate on Motion 163 standing in my name, which is supported by many of my hon. Friends, asking for a code of conduct for the private sector of the economy and all private firms in receipt of public funds?

[That this House, while fully supporting the Government's regional policies as an instrument of full employment and economic growth, notes that Government assistance to private industry is currently costing the taxpayer £2 million per day; expresses grave concern about the lack of social responsibility evident in recent company mergers, with their subsequent effect on factory closures and unemployment; calls upon the Government to enter into urgent discussions with the Confederation of British Industries and the Trades Union Congress to prepare a code of conduct applicable to all private firms in receipt of public funds, to include trade union recognition, joint consultation with trade unions, local authorities and regional economic planning councils, particularly on proposed factory closures and manpower redeployment, compensation for redundancy, transferability of pensions, payment of transfer allowances, the phased introduction of equal pay and staff status for manual workers, company manpower and training policies; and, thus, to make the private sector of the economy more fully accountable to the nation.]

Mr. Peart

I have carefully examined the Motion, which has been on the Order Paper for a considerable time. I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about it, but I cannot find time to discuss it in the week after next.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider providing time for an early debate on parliamentary reform so that those who have come into Parliament since the beginning of this Parliament, and who are almost exclusively on this side, can have an opportunity of expressing an opinion on the way in which parliamentary democracy in this country is being undermined?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept that our parliamentary democracy is being undermined. I agree that the subject is of importance. As the system develops, reforms and procedures which have been changed and accepted must be examined by the House. I agree that, later, the House should properly debate the matter.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

On an earlier occasion my right hon. Friend gave a half promise that we would have a debate on the urgent matter of Vietnam. Can he now make that a firm commitment?

Mr. Peart

I cannot commit myself for the week after next. I appreciate that there is strong feeling on this subject. While it would not be possible to have a major debate on foreign affairs— Vietnam is foreign affairs—I will convey my right hon. Friend's view to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Bryan

Is the Leader of the House aware of the explosion of protest which greeted the latest brainwave of the Postmaster-General to discontinue the issue of comprehensive London telephone directories? When may hon. Members have an opportunity to express their views on this matter?

Mr. Peart

I do not know whether it was my right hon. Friend's brainwave, but I regret that a debate on that issue cannot take place the week after next.

Mr. James Griffiths

May I urge my right hon. Friend not to become overanxious about criticisms of reforms in parliamentary procedure? Will he take it from me—and this will be supported by hon. Members who have served in the House for many years—that in olden days we used to spend fruitless hours and days discussing details of Finance Bills which would have been much better discussed upstairs? Will he—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman must ask a Business question.

Mr. Griffiths

Will my right hon. Friend find time for two debates; first, on parliamentary reform, a matter which concerns all hon. Members—and may we have a statement on this matter shortly after the Recess—and, secondly, on the tragic situation in Nigeria, for which we have some responsibility? Will he do his best to provide even a half-day's debate for this subject because we all desire to promote peace among these people?

Mr. Peart

I will certainly convey my right hon. Friend's comments about Nigeria to my right hon. Friend. I know that my right hon. Friend, from his experience feels strongly about this matter. To answer his other question, about providing time for debating the subject of Parliamentary reform. I agree that we should debate this issue at some future time. I assure my right hon. Friend that I, too, regard this as an important matter, since we are all anxious to make Parliament work as efficiently as possible.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Can the right hon. Gentleman either confirm or deny whether it is his intention to use some of the time which he has saved by guillotining the Finance and Transport Bills by providing time for such Private Members' Bills as the Government favour, and, if so, which?

Mr. Peart

No time has been saved, so I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Moyle

May I press my right hon. Friend further on the question of providing time for a debate on parliamentary procedure? Is he aware that such a debate would give hon. Members on this side of the House a chance to refute many of the statements that have been made, including the one made by Lord Carrington on 22nd May, in which he said that we were undermining this democratic Chamber by passing illdigested legislation? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Is he aware that the only impediment to our legislation being fully digested by hon. Gentlemen opposite is their uncontrolled loquacity on the subject of dinner hours and shirt sleeves?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not debating the issue now. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question about the business of the House.

Mr. Peart

I am aware that my hon. Friend and others feel as he does, but I regret that I cannot find time for such a debate the week after next.

Sir T. Brinton

The right hon. Gentleman has several time brushed aside the vital question of the protection of the existence of Parliament. Is he aware that it is his duty to protect not only the interests of private Members—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I, too, wish to protect hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman must ask a Business question.

Sir T. Brinton

Is it not the right hon. Gentleman's duty to protect not only the privileges of private Members, but also the operation of Parliament? Is he aware of a Question on the Order Paper— [Interruption.]—about introducing administrative action in advance of legislation, that we have had Guillotines and that we are being reduced—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is Business question time. The hon. Gentleman must ask for something to be debated.

Sir T. Brinton

I do not know whether this arises on Business questions, but I am speaking of the business of the House. Is it not the right hon. Gentleman's duty to protect us against being prevented from discussing the business of the House, which is legislation?

Mr. Peart

As an old Parliamentarian, I am always glad to protect Parliament. The procedures which we have, and which have been improved, are to help hon. Members.

Mr. Dalyell

In view of the publication in the past fortnight of two significant far-reaching reports on football and athletics, will it be possible for the first Commons debate on sport to take place since the Minister who is responsible for sport had his job created in October. 1964?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend has raised an important point and, incidentally, I am sure that we all approve of the success of Manchester United last night. Sport is important, but I am unable to find time for it to be debated the week after next.

Sir D. Renton

In arranging future business, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is always a member of the Government with Departmental responsibility present in Standing Committees when the affairs of the Department are being discussed, and so avoid the situation on the Race Relations Bill this morning in Standing Committee when, while we were discussing employment, the Under-Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity could not be present because he had been up all night on the Prices and Incomes Bill? Will the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must not pursue the matter in detail.

Sir D. Renton

I am asking that the situation which arose this morning should be avoided in arranging future business.

Mr. Peart

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's point is not a matter for the business of the House for the week after next, but I will certainly examine most carefully the complaint he has made. If he will have a word with me later we can discuss the matter in more detail.

Mr. Molloy

As parliamentary procedure has been ruthlessly exploited by the Opposition for purely party political advantage—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]—a system which they found so perfect when they were in power, would not my right hon. Friend agree that an opportunity should be provided for hon. Members on both sides of the House, and particularly those who support the Liberal and Labour Parties, to refute some of the gross charges which have been made about our parliamentary system?

Mr. Peart

I believe that we may be able to afford an opportunity for this matter to be debated, but I fear that will not happen the week after next.

Mr. Marten

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Motion No. 266, which stands in the names of 96 right hon. and hon. Members, to which many other names will no doubt be added after the Recess? Since it deals with the reasonable and wise proposition that this country should study an alternative in the Atlantic Free Trade Area, will he provide time for the Motion to be debated?

[That this House, taking note of the present state of the negotiations to join the Common Market, believes that Her Majesty's Government should, in the meantime, begin a feasibility study of an open-ended Atlantic Free Trade Area initially comprising the United Kingdom, the European Free Trade Association, Canada and the United States of America.]

Mr. Peart

I have looked carefully at that Motion. I recognise that many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel strongly about the matter. However, I cannot find time for it to be debated the week after next.

Mr. Roebuck

In view of the unwarranted and totally unmeritorious complaints which have been made by some hon. Gentlemen opposite about ill-digested legislation, may I press my right hon. Friend to provide time for an early debate on procedure so that the country may be told by many of us that those who are making these allegations about ill-digested legislation are often not in the House long enough to digest a glass of water?

Mr. Peart

I appreciate what my hon. Friend is saying, but I cannot find time for the matter to be debated the week after next.

Mr. Goodhart

Will the right hon. Gentleman promise that we will not be faced with a guillotine Motion on the Prices and Incomes Bill when we return?

Mr. Peart

This is a matter which every Government must judge in the circumstances—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope that, by good sense and voluntary co-operation, which, unfortunately, we did not have on a previous occasion, we may be able to proceed without any measure of that kind.

Mr. Raymond Fletcher

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his refusal to provide time to debate the North Atlantic Free Trade Area proposal? Is he aware that such a debate would provide some of us with our only opportunity to demand a recount on the earlier Common Market vote?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the strong feelings held by many of my hon. Friends on this issue, but I cannot find time for it to be debated the week after next.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what legislation he will repeal next week?

Mr. Peart

I cannot answer that.

Mr. Maclennan

In view of the extreme financial predicament of the International Development Association, can my right hon. Friend say whether legislation will be forthcoming to enable us to play our part in replenishing the resources of that organisation?

Mr. Peart

While I appreciate that my hon. Friend feels strongly about this matter, I cannot find time for it to be debated the week after next.

Mr. Dance

Has the Leader of the House noted Motion No. 320, relating to the reintroduction of the death penalty for the murder of police or prison officers?

[That this House is of the opinion that capital punishment should be reintroduced for the crime of murder of police or prison officers in view of the long series of attacks on police and prison officers, culminating in the four cases of alleged stabbing that occurred in Peter-head Prison on 27th May, 1968.]

In view of the grave anxiety in the minds of many people, and the obvious danger to police and prison officers, will he give an assurance that the House will discuss this matter soon after the Whit-sun Recess?

Mr. Peart

I cannot give an assurance that it will be debated during the week after next.

Mr. Abse

Will the Leader of the House note that the answers he has given to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) are very unhappy replies. Is he not aware that the fact that a Department may have some diffidence in wanting to discuss a number of prison reports, and that decisions and announcements are being made outside the House, may be an additional reason why he, as Leader of the House, should protect the Estimates Committees and make certain that there is a full debate on prisons?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend knows full well the history of this matter. Although the original debate was curtailed, I cannot find time during the week after next.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take an early opportunity to explain the details of the very important Estate Duty concession which the Financial Secretary announced in the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill last night and which, in view of the operation of the Guillotine, he was entirely unable to explain to the Committee?

Mr. Peart

This is a matter which is on a much more detailed point than the business of the week after next. I will convey the hon. Member's point to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Michael Foot

On a point of order. Will it not become a serious abuse of the procedures of the House, which we are asked to respect, if again and again references are made on Thursday afternoons to procedures in Committee? It could mean that the Business question time could become interminable, which would be a serious infringement of the rights of hon. Members.

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to rebuke those hon. Members who seek to refer to proceedings in the Committees? This practice results in endless exaggeration and the infringement of the interests of most back benchers.

Mr. Speaker

There is quite a lot in what the hon. Gentleman says. Business question time is stretching out, and it hurts the business ahead.

Mr. Heath

Further to that point of order. Is it not also correct that there is no opportunity for hon. Members to raise questions of business in Committees, for which the Leader of the House is in any case primarily responsible? He is responsible for the whole of the business of the House, whether on the Floor of the House or in Committee, and, therefore, we cannot in any way have our rights limited in this matter.

Mr. Speaker

I made the real point earlier, that we could not pursue a Committee matter in detail. We could raise on the Floor of the House, as has been done, something affecting the business arrangements of the Committees concerned. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. I am, however, concerned about the length of business question time.

Mr. Albu

Could we not in future refer business questions to a Standing Committee upstairs?

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Will the Leader of the House try to persuade the Secretary of State to make a detailed and comprehensive statement next week about the proposed siting of the aluminium smelter in Scotland, in view of the anxiety which is felt in Scotland about the long delay?

Mr. Peart

I will convey the views of the hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Could the Leader of the House say whether the recommittal of the Committee stage of the Finance Bill will take place in the week after the business which he has announced?

Mr. Peart

It is not for me to comment upon that until nearer the time.

Mr. McMaster

Would the Leader of the House consider setting aside two days for a debate on foreign affairs, so that, among other important issues, the present unsatisfactory state of diplomatic relations with China can be fully considered by hon. Members?

Mr. Peart

I have already said that I will convey this request for a debate to my right hon. Friend.

Sir C. Taylor

Would the Leader of the House now take us into his confidence, and say when we may hope for a General Election?

Mr. Peart

Not next week, or the week after.

Mr. Hastings

On a point of order. I seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9—

Mr. Speaker

That cannot be done at this stage. There is still a statement to come.

Mr. John Hynd

We have had a point of order raised already on the abuse of Business question time. The last question from the other side was another such question. It was purely a propaganda point which had nothing to do with the programme of the House. Should not some indication be given to hon. Members that Business question time should be used more speoifically on questions on the forthcoming business?

Mr. Speaker

The indication was given.