HC Deb 17 October 1968 vol 770 cc583-91
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 Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

Yes, Sir. It may be for the convenience of the House if I announce the arrangements for outstanding Government business not only for next week but also for today and tomorrow.

Today, we shall continue with consideration of Lords Amendments to the Transport Bill.

Tomorrow, the rearranged business will be: Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Gaming Bill, the Medicines Bill and the Restrictive Trade Practices Bill.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 21ST OCTOBER—Completion of consideration of the Lords Amendments to the Transport Bill.

TUESDAY, 22ND OCTOBER—Debate on Southern Rhodesia.

This will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House, and will be followed by the Motion relating to the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965 (Continuation) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 23RD OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Race Relations Bill, the Justices of the Peace Bill, the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, and the Town and Country Planning Bill.

Motion on the Detention Centre (Amendment) Rules.

THURSDAY, 24TH OCTOBER—Consideration of any Lords Amendments outstanding to Government Bills.

Procedural Motions to renew by Standing Orders certain Sessional Orders.

Motion on the Secretary of State for Social Services Order.

At seven o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has put down the Foreman and Staff Mutual Benefit Society (Application of Rules) etc. (No. 2) Bill.

Motion on the Essex and Southend-on-Sea Police (Amalgamation) Order.

FRIDAY, 25TH OCTOBER—Subject to progress of Government business, Prorogation will take place.

In that event, the new Session will be opened on Wednesday, 30th October.

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. My right hon. Friend has failed, by error, to provide time next week for a discussion of the problem of the closure of Abbotsinch Airport.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member knows that that is not a point of order and that he has an opportunity—which he will no doubt take—of asking a business question.

Mr. Heath

If, unfortunately, the threatened engineering strike takes place next week is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House will obviously want to be kept closely informed about developments and will he arrange for this to be done.

In view of the enormous flood of complaints which hon. Members have received about the two-tier postal service the half-hour Adjournment that is to take place tonight is quite insufficient time for hon. Members to express their views. Will he therefore rearrange business next week to give us an opportunity for a much longer debate? This he could do, on Thursday, for example, by postponing the debate on Standing Orders, which is not urgent before next Session, or postponing the Second Reading of the Private Bill, which could also wait until next Session.

Mr. Peart

My right hon. Friend the First Secretary will keep the House informed on the possibility of a strike. I shall certainly convey the views of the Leader of the Opposition on this point to her.

I am aware of the controversy that has been aroused over postal charges. I think that there should be an opportunity for discussion. I know that the right hon. Gentleman feels that an Adjournment debate is not sufficient. I suggest that I might have a word with him, or discuss the matter through the usual channels. We will look at this, but I could not be specific about next week.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Leader of the House aware of two Prayers on the Order Paper, one concerning the increased charges under the Health Service and the second postal charges? When will they be debated—especially as the latter will give the Opposition a proper opportunity to debate the matter, and since my hon. Friends and I have tabled a Prayer to the postal charges?

Secondly, with regard to the position in Northern Ireland, bearing in mind the very long and distinguished history of this House in being jealous of human rights, will there be a statement by the Prime Minister next week or the possibility for a debate? If the answer is in the negative, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether it is because the Government have insufficient time or believe that they have insufficient power to deal with the situation?

Mr. Peart

The Leader of the Liberal Party knows the constitutional position in relation to Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister has asked the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to discuss with him a matter which is of concern to many hon. Members. I believe that this matter should be discussed, but I cannot be tied to next week.

On the question of the Prayers, I hope to find opportunities.

Mr. C. Pannell

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is no credit to this House or the Government that by now we have not considered or acted upon the Report of the Select Committee on the Law of Privilege? Although some people may think that unimportant, all those who witnessed what took place on a matter which arose shortly before the House rose for the Summer Recess—which concerned one of our colleagues—are anxious to bring this business up-to-date in a way which is more creditable to the House. Will he understand that there is deep feeling about this and that there are a whole lot of things which can be done without legislation? The matter brooks no further delay.

Mr. Peart

I know that my right hon. Friend feels very strongly about this; indeed, I had a word with him only the other day. There is no attempt to procrastinate. I pay tribute to the Select Committee and to the Chairman. The Report should be read by every hon. Member. It is very important, and very complicated. One has only to read the Report to see how detailed it is. I am having discussions on this matter and I hope to meet my right hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Swain

Owing to the serious situation which is arising in the mining industry and the estimates in the 1967 White Paper on Fuel Policy which have proved to be hopelessly wrong, would my right hon. Friend find time next week to debate Motion No. 395, in the names of myself and my hon. Friends?

[That this House expresses its alarm at the far too rapid run-down of the manpower in the mining industry; rejects the conclusions of the 1967 White Paper on Fuel Policy; calls for a complete and exhaustive re-examination of the assumptions on which the Government's fuel policy rests; considers that in the meantime it is essential in the national interest that the Government should underwrite the coal industry at its present level of production so that it may have an adequate transitional period in which to realise its full potential, should slow down the rate of pit closures to ensure that any necessary closures are phased with the introduction of new industry which will absorb the redundant mine-workers, and should limit production of opencast coal and eliminate the production of alienated fuels; and believes that these measures must be adopted so that confidence can be restored to the industry and the decline in manpower arrested.]

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the problems in the mining industry. I note carefully what my hon. Friend has said and not only the Motion but the Amendment to it. I cannot find time next week to debate this important matter.

Mr. Bryan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the concern about the postal services is both genuine and urgent? Therefore, some time next Session is an unacceptable time for a debate.

Mr. Peart

I am aware of this, and I have given an answer already.

Sir A. V. Harvey

In view of the rape of Czechoslovakia by Soviet Russia and the more recent build-up of Soviet naval vessels in the Mediterranean, may we have an early statement from the Minister of Defence as to where Britain stands, particularly in the light of the poor recruiting figures in our three Armed Services?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of this, and I have seen the Motion on the Order Paper. I will convey the hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Orme

Would my right hon. Friend ask the Foreign Secretary whether he could make a statement next week on the important discussions which are going on internationally about the war in Vietnam? Since the Foreign Secretary is Joint Chairman of the Geneva Conference, would my right hon. Friend ask him to make a statement, particularly if developments are taking place in this important sphere?

Mr. Peart

I note what my hon. Friend says. I will convey his views to the Foreign Secretary. I cannot bind my right hon. Friend to making a statement, but I know the importance of this matter.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Turning to the point made earlier concerning Motion No. 431, signed by more than 50 hon. Members, since the rape of Czechoslovakia by 1 million armed troops from Communist Powers took place more than eight weeks ago surely it is time that the Government announced what action they propose to take as regards this invasion and as a result of the increased build-up of Communist forces in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. This is a great threat to the free world. What action will the Government take?

[That this House urges the Government to concentrate with the United Kingdom's allies on providing adequate defence against Communist capability and to halt the rundown of United Kingdom forces and the destruction of the system of Reserves.]

Mr. Peart

I am not sure what positive action the hon. Gentleman has in mind. One could have a dangerous attitude to these matters. I thought that the previous question was addressed to the possibility of the Secretary of State for Defence making a statement on the state of our defence forces. I said that I would convey what was said to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Would my right hon. Friend reconsider his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain)? Is he aware that the National Coal Board, in carrying out the policy of the Government, is threatening the closure of pits in grey areas which run just below the economic line? Would my right hon. Friend provide an opportunity to debate this matter next week?

Mr. Peart

I am very much aware of this problem. I represent a coalmining area. I will convey the strong feeling of my hon. Friends to the Minister concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain), very effectively put a supplementary question to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on this subject.

Mr. Doughty

As the Leader of the House says that the House will be prorogued on Friday and will not meet again until Wednesday, would the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement before Friday concerning the disorderly events which are threatened on the Sunday between Prorogation and our reassembly?

Mr. Peart

This is a very important matter, about which many hon. Members are concerned. I will certainly do what the hon. and learned Gentleman has asked.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Would my right hon. Friend find time in the near future for a debate on the urgent subject referred to in my Question No. 6 to the Prime Minister which was not reached today, concerning the large number of inherited estates in Scotland which should be put in the hands of the occupying tenants?

Mr. Peart

I have noticed my hon. and learned Friend's Question to the Prime Minister. He still has opportunities to put the same Question to the Prime Minister. I cannot find time for a debate next week.

Dr. Winstanley

Would the right hon. Gentleman make it absolutely clear that Tuesday's debate on Rhodesia will be in addition to and not instead of the debate which will be necessary if and when we receive an answer from Mr. Smith?

Mr. Peart

I think that it is the wish of every hon. Member that we should have a major debate on this matter apart from a debate on the Order itself.

Mr. Leadbitter

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is some concern about the need for a reappraisal of public investment programmes in the regions, the amount to be spent on research and development and the dispersal of offices from London? Would he undertake to let the House debate, possibly at an early date, regional policies in the light of developments in recent months?

Mr. Peart

Regional policy is a very important matter, together with the role of the development areas. I note what my hon. Friend says. I cannot commit myself to arranging a debate for next week, but I will convey his views.

Mr. Carlisle

There is a Prayer on the Order Paper for Wednesday. If, due to the vast amount of other business for that day, the Prayer is not reached, would the right hon. Gentleman undertake to say that it will not be lost but that we shall be able to deal with it in the week after we return.

Mr. Peart

If that happens, I shall hope to meet the point. I will consider it carefully.

Mr. Ronald Bell

What is the point of taking the Second Reading of a Private Bill on the evening before Parliament is prorogued? Will there be a carry-over Motion, which the right hon. Gentleman did not announce in the Business Statement?

Mr. Peart

As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, this is a matter for decision by the Chairman of Ways and Means. This was put down for that reason.

Mr. G. Campbell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my Adjournment debate tonight on the postal services, limited to half an hour, can be regarded only as a trailer and a means of extracting a statement of intention from the Government and that many hon. Members, I suspect on both sides of the House, will wish to debate, on behalf of their constituents, the serious and alarming deterioration in the postal services?

Mr. Peart

I am well aware of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that my hon. Friend has just raised a very urgent question? Many local authorities, as a deliberate policy, have taken on the 4d. postal service and, as a consequence, salary cheques are delayed—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot have a debate now. The hon. Gentleman must ask for time.

Mr. Jopling

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the undertaking which he has given on the two-tier postal system means that we probably cannot debate it until the second week in November and that, as the whole country is disrupted and dissatisfied by this disastrous experiment, it is absolutely vital that we debate it next week? Would the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that we shall do so?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman has made a point on which I gave a reply earlier.

Mr. Peyton

Following the very interesting piece of information that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the present troubles in the Post Office and that he has noted the observations of my hon. Friend, would he go a little further and say what he will do about the matter?

Mr. Peart

I am always cautious when replying to the hon. Gentleman, who is very courteous to me on all occasions. I have no wish to be evasive. I should like to have talks about this matter.

Mr. Awdry

What will happen to business next week if members of the other place wish to persist in their Amendments to the Transport Bill?

Mr. Peart

We must wait and see.