HC Deb 14 November 1968 vol 773 cc615-28
Mr. Heath

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

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

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

MONDAY, 18TH NOVEMBER.—Second Reading of the Representation of the People Bill.

Motion on the Highway Code.

TUESDAY, 19TH NOVEMBER.—Debate on a Motion to take note of the White Paper on House of Lords Reform (Command No. 3799), which will be concluded on Wednesday, 20th November, the second allotted Supply day.

Motions on the Aluminium Industry (Invergordon Project) and (Anglesey Project) Schemes, and on the Fugitive Offenders (United Kingdom Dependencies) Order.

THURSDAY, 21ST NOVEMBER.—Motion to take note of the Report of the Civil Service (Command No. 3638).

Motion on the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Amendment (No. 2) Order.

FRIDAY, 22ND NOVEMBER.—Second Reading of the Vehicles and Driving Licences Bill and, if there is time, of the New Towns Bill.

MONDAY, 25TH NOVEMBER.—Supply [3rd Allotted Day]:

Debate on a topic to be announced later.

Motions on the Hire Purchase (Amendment No. 9) and (Amendment No. 11, Orders.

Mr. Heath

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we consider the proposals in the White Paper for reform of the House of Lords to be of such constitutional importance that we should have the opportunity of a two-day debate on them and that, as the Government were unwilling to carry out their obligations to provide the full time, we have contributed a Supply day to enable the House to have two days?

Can the right hon. Gentleman also explain why, in these circumstances, it is necessary to take the debate in this House at the same time as the debate in another place? This reform affects primarily the other place, but this House will be unable to take account of the views expressed there in its own debate. Why is it necessary to have our debate at the same time? Will he consider moving the debate to two other days?

Mr. Peart

I thank the Opposition for helping us to have a two-day debate. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. I think that it is right. It is reasonable and sensible to have a debate in the House of Lords. Why should not their Lordships express their views? After all, we are providing a debate on the White Paper. There will inevitably be a major debate on the Bill itself and I would have thought that our proposal for next week was reasonable.

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my question. Far be it from me to suggest that the other place should be prevented from expressing its views. But when it is known that their Lordships are expressing their views on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week, would it not be more convenient and proper for us to wait until they have done so, so that we shall have heard their views on a reform which affects their own House before we express our views here?

Mr. Peart

I would have thought that an hon. Member should not be inhibited in any way from expressing his views. After all, there will be a Second Reading debate on the Bill.

Mr. Shinwell

Will my right hon. Friend tell hon. Members why it is necessary to have two days for a debate on House of Lords reform, particularly in view of the fact—and I understand that it is a fact—that the Government have agreed with the Opposition about the Bill? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Will my right hon. Friend answer these murmers about what I have said? Have the Government agreed with the Opposition or not?

Secondly, on a constitutional principle of this kind, and particularly in view of the very strong opposition on this side to certain proposals in the proposed Bill, may we have a free vote?

Mr. Peart

The question of a free vote is not for me, but for my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip. My right hon. Friend knows that it is not for me to get involved with the discipline of either party. I will convey his views to the Chief Whip.

On the question whether or not there should be time, we believe that this is a very important matter, affecting the constitution of the House itself. I am most grateful to the Opposition for having made extra time available. I see nothing wrong with this.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend has said that, to obtain a proper reply to my question, it should be put to the Chief Whip. May I now put it to the Chief Whip?

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman can put his question to the Chief Whip, but not here.

Mr. Powell

As the Leader of the House has accepted the constitutional importance of the proposals to be debated, does not he recognise the strength of the argument against their being debated simultaneously in both Houses? Does not he see that one of the results of that will be that the debate on House of Lords reform in this House will be less useful and will receive less public attention?

Mr. Peart

I note with interest the right hon. Gentleman's support for the Leader of the Opposition on this matter. It is a point of view. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."] I am not being cheap. I assume that there are differences of view in all parties. I take the view that there is nothing really to argue about against the Lords debating these things in the way they are going to do. I see no reason why right hon. and hon. Members here should be inhibited by our proposal.

Mr. William Hamilton

Is it the Government's intention to introduce legislation strictly in line with the terms of the White Paper on House of Lords reform? Will we have an opportunity to put down an Amendment to the Government's Motion to take note of the White Paper?

Mr. Peart

I am dealing with the business for next week, but my hon. Friend can put forward his view in the debate. It would be right and proper for the Ministers responsible to take note of the views of both sides of the House in the preparation of legislation.

Mr. Peyton

While it is very nice of the Leader of the House to concede that the House of Lords should have an opportunity to discuss its own destiny—we appreciate that—will he not answer the question and say why this House should not have an opportunity to discuss the proposals in the light of what another place has had to say about itself?

Mr. Peart

I have answered that, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. I would be surprised if the hon. Gentleman were in any way to be inhibited by another place.

Mr. Orme

To change the subject, has my right hon. Friend seen Motion No. 26—

[That this House, in view of continued public criticism of Government economic policy by the Governor of the Bank of England calculated to renew anxiety about our economic position and to damage the £ sterling, urges Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer to inform the Governor that should he continue to find his position irreconcilable with Her Majesty's Government policy then the only honourable course of action would be for him to tender his resignation.]

and the Amendment—

[at end add ' and further urges that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries should undertake a full investigation during the present Session into the operations of the Bank of England and the advice tendered by the present and recent Governors to Her Majesty's Government on financial policy in general and the level of employment in particular'.]

—in the names of my hon. Friends and myself, asking for the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries to discuss this publicly-owned industry?

Will he give us facilities next week to debate the Bank of England and the statements which the Governor has been making, which are of national importance and which affect our economic circumstances?

Mr. Peart

I am well aware of the Motion. There are many views on this subject, but it is not for debate next week.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

Also to change the subject, in view of the Report of the Services Committee about the telephone services of the Palace of Westminster and as the switchboard will not be able to carry the load beyond the spring of 1971, so that a new automatic system has to be installed by Christmas, 1970, a system for which the order ought already to have been given, will the Leader of the House have a debate on this subject, for considerable inconvenience will be caused to those of us who may be in the House in 1971 if a decision is not quickly taken?

Mr. Peart

I am sure that that includes the Lord President of the Council. May I have a word with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on this? He and I are members of the Services Committee and he is well aware that I am very much interested in this matter. I shall do all I can to do what he says.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to Motion No. 28, which seeks to pray against the Children and Young Persons Regulations? Will he provide time for this Prayer next week, so that these Regulations may be dismissed?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Children (Performances) Regulations 1968 (S.I., 1968, No. 1728), dated 30th October, 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th November, be annulled]

Mr. Peart

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's views on this subject. It is important, but I cannot give an assurance that it will be debated next week.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of us think two days far too long for the debate on the reform of the House of Lords when there are other important matters which, unfortunately, have been left out of his timetable for next week? For instance, will he find time for a debate on the reappointment of the Select Committee on Agriculture, a subject which he has twice put down for debate late at night when there has not been an adequate opportunity to debate it?

Mr. Peart

I cannot do so. The hon. Gentleman must be well aware that the Select Committee on Agriculture, which has been very successful, was appointed on the understanding that it was to be established for an experimental period. This was known by the hon. Members involved in it. I could not afford time for a debate.

Mr. Pavitt

In the event of the Minister without Portfolio making a statement on Rhodesia on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, will the Leader of the House consider rearranging the programme so that we may have a debate for one or two days on that subject?

Mr. Peart

We must wait and see. A statement would naturally be necessary, but I cannot commit myself at this stage.

Mr. Jennings

Will the Leader of the House say why he has not included in next week's business the proposed Bill on public service and Armed Forces pensions? In giving such reasons, will he say whether the Bill will be introduced early in the Session, in the middle of the Session, or late in the Session?

Mr. Peart

All I can say is, "Not next week".

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Jennings

On a point of order. That is not a fair answer, Mr. Speaker. I submit that in wording the question as I did I endeavoured to keep within the rules of order. I was given a facetious reply. I was given the right hon. Gentleman's stock answer, "Not next week", which means nothing and is no answer to a question which was put to him courteously.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman, who is one of my Chairmen, would obviously put a question which was in order. I concede that, but I am not responsible for the right hon. Gentleman's answers.

Mr. Heffer

May I ask a serious question? My right hon. Friend will be aware that 129 right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have signed a Motion about the building workers' wage claim. While I hope and every other hon. Member hopes that the discussions now taking place, especially this afternoon, will reach a successful conclusion, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that if they do not we will have an early debate on this very important matter, which concerns 1½ million workers?

[That this House deplores the decision of the Government to refer the modest interim settlement agreed to by the building trade unions and employers to the National Board for Prices and Incomes; further feels that if persisted in then grave industrial unrest could develop in the industry, which can have serious results for the economy; and therefore calls upon the Government to withdraw the reference immediately.]

Mr. Peart

This is an important issue. I noted with interest only last week that my hon. Friend had put down the Motion. My right hon. Friend the First Secretary is now engaged in discussions with the unions concerned and I would rather leave it there at this stage.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider a debate on Motion No. 27, which calls attention to the quite improper use of taxpayers' money by the Foreign Office on organisations which have by no means unanimous support throughout the country?

[That this House deplores the provision of grants by the Foreign Office from public money to the following politically controversial organisations, Britain in Europe, Limited, College of Europe, Bruges, European Schools Day, Committee of Student European Associations, European Atlantic Movement, whose views are not shared by a large number of taxpayers and calls upon the Foreign Secretary to terminate such grants forthwith.]

Mr. Peart

I have noted that Motion with interest. I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I am not being facetious but only precise when I say "Not next week", for there will be no time.

Mr. Dickens

In view of the mounting concern in the House and in the country about the effect on the economy of takeover bids and take-overs, will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the Government intend to publish a statement of policy, by way of a White Paper, on the matter, and whether we may have an early debate on the problem?

Mr. Peart

As my hon. Friend rightly says, this is an important matter, but I cannot say that there will be a statement next week. However, I shall convey his views to my right hon. Friends the President of the Board of Trade and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Sir G. Nabarro

Does the Leader of the House recall that on Tuesday there was a statement about agricultural objectives which caused great dismay on this side of the House and which resulted in Motion No. 31, which was signed by more than 80 right hon. and hon. Gentlemen? Having regard to the fundamental importance of this matter and the declining fortunes of our balance of payments, would not the right hon. Gentleman find time next week to debate this important Motion?

[That this House expresses its utter amazement at the completely inadequate statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on agricultural objectives; and calls upon him to understand that farmers will not respond to mere pious hopes and that they look for leadership backed by proper incentives and effective import control.]

Mr. Peart

I have noted the Motion and also the Amendment, which is very good. It is not for me to get involved in arguments about policy at business question time, but I would have thought that the statement would have been welcomed by the industry and I think that it has been.

Mr. Speaker

We cannot discuss merits at business question time. May I remind the House that ahead of us is a debate on a Report from a Committee which has been waiting for the debate for a long time?

Mr. Mackintosh

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the members of the Select Committee on Agriculture did not know that it was an experimental Committee for a fixed period only? Secondly—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot discuss the merits. The hon. Member must ask for time for debate.

Mr. Mackintosh

With respect, Mr. Speaker, I am asking, in view of the members not being aware of this and not being consulted on the deadline placed upon them, and that there is not sufficient time for them to report within the time given, whether my right hon. Friend will change his mind and at least, in consultation with the members of the Committee, make sufficient time available to enable them to complete the job which he said they were doing successfully, but which they will not be able to do if the Motion on the Order Paper goes through.

Mr. Peart

I was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at that period and involved very much in this question. Members were aware that this was an experimental period. Apart from that, I consulted the Chairman of the Committee on the matter.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot discuss the merits of the setting up of the Select Committee on Agriculture. We can ask only whether we can have time to discuss it.

Mr. Farr

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the Motion which was tabled only today, signed by 100 hon. Members, relating to the importance of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement?

[That this House, conscious of the value to many Commonwealth nations of of the long-term stability provided by the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, urges Her Majesty's Government to restore this to its eight-year period of validity during the negotiations now proceeding.]

If the right hon. Gentleman has not seen it, will he, in view of the critical stage of these negotiations, provide time for an early debate on the subject?

Mr. Peart

I have noted carefully the Motion in the names of the hon. Member and his colleagues. I agree that this is a very important matter for the Commonwealth. Indeed, I was very much involved in it. Talks are still going on, and I think it would be premature to think in terms of a debate next week. Nevertheless, the hon. Member has made his point.

Mr. Booth

Since the Lancashire Police Amalgamation Order contains controversial proposals, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that the House will have an opportunity to debate the Order before it is signed by the Home Secretary?

Mr. Peart

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip is in touch with my hon. Friend on this matter.

Sir J. Eden

In view of the imminent break-up of the loyal and enterprising team of British Eagle, will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an opportunity next week to discuss the Labour Party's attitude towards independent airlines?

Mr. Peart

Hon. Members should not try to draw me into arguments about policy. There will not be time next week.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Since the Leader of the House says that he is short of time, is he not prepared to use a Guillotine on the proceedings on House of Lords reform? Will he not prepare the legislation quickly?

Mr. Peart

That is another matter.

Mr. Fortescue

Will the Leader of the House tell us whether there will be time next week for a statement from the Minister of Technology on the future of E.L.D.O. and the British space programme, which is now critical and urgent?

Mr. Peart

There has been a conference in Europe only this week on this important matter. I will convey this request to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is an irritating relationship between the Motions relating to some forms of expenditure for the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement and that many of us in the House find these two matters quite distasteful? Ought he not to arrange for an early debate, so that these two matters can be thoroughly investigated?

Mr. Peart

I gave what I hope is an adequate reply to the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on the question of the Sugar Agreement. I accept that it is an important matter, but I cannot find time.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Again, I remind the House that there is important business ahead.

Mr. David Howell

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Government's decision to kill the Select Committee on Agriculture makes nonsense of their aspirations for Parliamentary reform and greater scrutiny of the Executive?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot discuss the merits. I have ruled twice on this. The hon. Member must ask for time.

Mr. Howell

Mr. Speaker, I was asking whether the Leader of the House could perhaps reconsider his decision and find time for a debate on this issue, which is very important.

Mr. Peart

There is no question of killing any Committee in that sense. This was an experimental Committee. There may be other Departments which need to be looked at in the same way as agriculture.

Mr. Galbraith

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, as Leader of the House, it is his duty to give a serious answer to a serious question and that he has not done so in reply to questions on the House of Lords? Will he please explain to the House why, when House of Lords reform is to be debated next week in another place, he is choosing to have a debate on the same subject on the same days in this House?

Mr. Peart

I have given my answer on that. [An HON MEMBER: "NO."] The hon. Member disagrees with me; I disagree with him. It is as simple as that.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Has the Leader of the House seen Motion No. 4, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Sir Charles Taylor), which contains a tribute to the police?

[That this House wishes to congratulate all the police who were on duty in London on 27th October, 1968, for their efficiency, good discipline and tolerance under great provocation; requests Mr. Speaker to send a letter of commendation on behalf of the whole House to all concerned especially thanking those who gave up their leave periods to be on duty; and, furthermore, wishes to place on record their admiration of the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police who in the interests of the liberty of all Her Majesty's subjects decided not to invoke his powers to ban the demonstration.]

Would he consider moving that Motion formally, as I am certain that it will receive the approbation of both sides of the House?

Mr. Peart

I accept what the hon. Member has said. I think that there would be little or no difficulty about putting the Motion on at 10 o'clock without a suspension. The Motion could then be passed formally. I think that this is right, and we would then record our tribute to the police.

Mr. English

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on this side of the House will appreciate his last remarks in answer to the hon. Gentleman opposite?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a business question.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

There is also an Amendment, paying tribute to the Government and the Home Secretary, which we would like to be included in the Motion.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

In view of the highly contentious nature of the Government White Paper on the Basle Agreement, when will the House be given a chance to debate it?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of its importance, but I cannot find time next week. There may be an opportunity later.

Mr. Hill

If the Leader of the House cannot find time to take the Motion on the Select Committee on Agriculture next week, will he not save time by accepting the Amendment in the name of his hon. Friend and other members of the Committee, and so enable the Committee to get on with its report and the Government to get on with its business?

Mr. Peart

There is always an opportunity for hon. Members to press the Opposition to have a debate on agriculture on a Supply day.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is it not deplorable that the Leader of the House should have made no attempt to answer the serious objections raised by a large number of hon. Members on the grossly inconvenient timing of the debate on the House of Lords? Is it not his duty to consider the wishes of Members of the House and not his own personal predilection?

Mr. Peart

I would have thought that what I have said was sensible. I cannot go beyond it.

Mr. C. Pannell

Will the Leader of the House reflect on whether it might not be better for the House of Lords to hear first what we have to say before they debate the question of reform?

Mr. Crouch

May I remind the Leader of the House that the Prime Minister referred this afternoon to the report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and said that it was in the forefront of his and the Government's mind? Would the Leader of the House let us know when we may debate the Report?

Mr. Peart

This was an excellent Report, even in the way it is written, and I pay tribute to all concerned. We will consider this sympathetically.

Mr. Bessell

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in reference to Motion No. 27, whether he has observed that it has been signed by hon. Members of all parties? If the undertaking which he gave to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) to put this before the Foreign Secretary is not successful, will he then give an undertaking to the House that there will be an opportunity to debate the Motion, even if not next week?

Mr. Peart

Let me make my first move before I consider the matter further.

Sir C. Osborne

I am very sorry to rise, Mr. Speaker, but I have waited for this opportunity. Since Motion No. 26 reflects upon the personal honour of the Governor of the Bank of England, ought not the Leader of the House either to have it debated quickly or withdrawn, since the Governor of the Bank of England is in no position to defend himself in the House?

Mr. Peart

I was asked to find time next week, but I cannot.

Mr. Heath

Does not the Leader of the House realise from the exchanges which have taken place across the Floor that he has got himself into an untenable position about the Select Committee on Agriculture? The Order is being put down at 10 p.m. each day but the right hon. Member is not getting the Order, and in the meantime the Committee is losing time.

Would it not be better for him to approach the Chairman of the Committee again to see whether they can agree a date on which the Committee can finish its work, recognising that it was part of the experiment which the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor started? Could he not see whether this could be settled amicably, rather than continue these irritating exchanges?

Mr. Peart

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I met the Chairman of the Committee on this matter, explained the position to him, and he concurred. I am sorry that other hon. Members disagree. I am prepared to look at this matter sensibly. If, for example, it is not possible to get the Committee's report, and there are difficulties, I am prepared to reconsider the matter.