HC Deb 18 December 1969 vol 793 cc1552-64
Mr. Maudling

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

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

The business for the first week after the Christmas Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY, 19TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill.

Motion on the Wales Rural Development Board Order.

TUESDAY, 20TH JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Industrial Development (Ships) Bill, the Local Employment Bill, the General Rate Bill and of the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 21ST JANUARY—Debate on a Motion to take note of the White Paper on Public Expenditure, 1968–69 to 1973–74. (Command No. 4234.)

Motion on the Caribbean Development Bank (Subscription to Shares of the Capital Stock) Order.

THURSDAY, 22ND JANUARY—Supply [6th Allotted Day]:

Conclusion of the debate on Public Expenditure.

Motions on the Import Duties (General) (No. 3) and (No. 4) Orders.

FRIDAY, 23RD JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 26TH JANUARY—Supply [7th Allotted Day]:

Winter Supplementary Estimates.

The subject for debate to be announced later.

Mr. Maudling

Does the Leader of the House recall that in the recent foreign affairs debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) put forward a suggestion about the use of helicopters for relief supplies to Nigeria? The Foreign Secretary was kind enough to undertake to have this examined by the Government. May we be told when a statement is to be made?

Mr. Peart

We accept that this was stressed by the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend and we have undertaken a detailed study of this proposal, as we have also been studying over the past months a number of other, similar, proposals which have been put forward. Our study is not yet complete, but my right hon. Friend will certainly make the results of it known.

Mr. Dickens

In view of the highly controversial, not to say highly unsatisfactory, findings of the Select Committee on Members' Interests (Declaration), can my right hon. Friend tell the House when we can debate this matter in the new year?

Mr. Peart

The Report has just been published. I hope that hon. Members will read it carefully before we decide about a time for a debate.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the letter in The Times this morning, signed by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen of all three political parties? Will he say that if the Foreign Secretary has not resigned from the Monnet Committee by the resumption of Parliament he will give facilities for an early debate on this very important matter?

Mr. Peart

I nearly said "Not next week". but that would have been very discourteous, today anyway. But I cannot promise a debate.

Mrs. Renée Short

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that he has been extremely niggardly to the House since it returned after the Summer Recess in providing time for debates on reports from Estimates Committees? Will he look al this again and see whether it is possible to give a day for reports to be debated as soon as possible?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend knows that I am never niggardly—

Mrs. Renée Short


Mr. Peart

Never mean, either. I will look at this. My hon. Friend is very plausible.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

In view of the defeat of the Government on a most important Clause in the Agriculture Bill this morning in Committee will the right hon. Gentleman consult his right hon. Friend with a view to withdrawing this Bill in toto

Mr. Peart

I cannot do that. The hon. Members knows the procedures of the House. There is always the possibility Of a Report stage.

Mr. Milne

Dealing with the Mineworkers Redundancy Payments Order will my right hon. Friend ask the Department concerned to hold an inquiry into this with a view to an early debate after we return?

Mr. Peart

I will look into this, I will communicate with the Department.

Mr. Berry

Does the Leader of the House recall that last week I asked him for a statement, if possible, about the impending strike on 1st January in London Transport? While appreciating that talks are still going on, could he ask his right hon. Friend to make a statement tomorrow, if not on the causes of the strike, then as to what emergency arrangements will be made for Londoners and commuters?

Mr. Peart

Talks are going on. I note what the hon. Gentleman has said and I will make representations.

Mr. William Hamilton

Could my right hon. Friend be a little more specific on the report recently issued about Members' interests? Could he give an undertaking that there will be a debate in the next three or four months at the latest because this is extremely important and a lot of Members are disturbed by its contents?

Mr. Peart

The report has just come out. I hope that hon. Members will look at it. I accept that it is an important matter but I cannot commit myself at this stage about when a debate will take place.

Mr. Peyton

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate on housing shortly after the Recess? We were unable to pursue this with the Prime Minister at Question Time and would like a debate so that he could take part in it.

Mr. Peart

I know that the hon. Gentleman is always anxious to hear my right hon. Friend. I cannot be specific as to whether there shall be a debate on housing, but I note what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Molloy

Will my right hon. Friend agree to a housing debate, if only to discuss some aspects of the special committee's report and also the fact that a Conservative councillor in Ealing claims that the Government have built too many houses and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate that now.

Mr. Peart

We debated housing recently, but I note what my hon. Friend has said.

Dame Irene Ward

Having expressed sympathy with a question I asked him last week, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can now give me an answer. What is to happen about the transfer of teaching of the mentally handicapped from the Department of Health and Social Security to the Department of Education and Science? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that those engaged in such education think that the Prime Minister has let them down?

Would it not give the Prime Minister a happier Christmas—not that I want him to have one—if we could have an answer, so that these dedicated young people would know where they stood?

Mr. Peart

I noted what was said last week and I assure the hon. Lady that I am bearing it in mind. I cannot go beyond that, except to wish her a happy Christmas, too.

Mr. Maxwell

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, despite the many good reasons of State given by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for maintaining a supply of arms to the Federal forces of Nigeria, this country is urgently desirous that Her Majesty's Government do something about giving relief to Biafra? Will he not say, firmly, when the Government propose to answer the excellent suggestion put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)?

Mr. Peart

I think that my hon. Friend did not really listen to my previous reply.

Mr. Maxwell

No date.

Mr. Peart

I cannot give a date. My hon. Friend should be patient. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is examining this matter. He takes it seriously. I cannot go beyond that now.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The House is going into recess and this is an urgent matter. I have only yesterday been able to send the Foreign Secretary some proposals from the United States which seem to me to show that relief supplies by helicopter is a logistic possibility. I understand the difficulties, but can the right hon. Gentleman say that we shall have an answer on this, if it is at all possible, at least before the House comes back? We want to know the various alternatives available.

Mr. Peart

The right hon. Gentleman is being reasonable. The suggestion that he made is being examined. I gave a reply to the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) on this. Of course, we will do what we can.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the famine in Biafra cannot be dealt with by reason, but only by action?

Mr. Peart

I accept that, but there is a lot of responsibility on many people involved, not only in Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Stodart

Perhaps I may return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker). Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the defeat inflicted this morning on the Government in Standing Committee on the Agriculture Bill was on the most important Clause in the Measure, and that many other Clauses depend upon that? Will he at least tell us how the Government are to get themselves out of their difficulty, since they had to adjourn the Committee this morning?

Mr. Peart

I would be out of order if I went into a detailed reply now because, technically, I have no knowledge of what happened.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate the decision to discontinue the issue of a daily tot of rum in the Royal Navy? Will he take into consideration the widespread disquiet at the continuation of discrimination between the wardroom and the lower deck in the matter of consumption of spirits on Her Majesty's ships?

Mr. Peart

I have sympathy with my hon. Friend's suggestion, but I cannot promise a debate. I can promise him that I will make enthusiastic representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Maudling

The right hon. Gentleman gave a strange answer when he said just now that he had no knowledge of what took place upstairs in Committee this morning. Although the proceedings cannot be quoted here now, the right hon. Gentleman must know what happened. Apparently, what happened has a considerable effect on the Government's legislative programme. The right hon. Gentleman should tell the House what he intends to do about it.

Mr. Peart

The right hon. Gentleman knows the procedure. The Committee has not reported yet.

Mr. Christopher Price

By the time we resume after the Christmas Recess, there will be the prospect of thousands of teachers being on strike and hundreds of thousands of children receiving no education. Will my right hon. Friend promise a statement from the Secretary of State for Education and Science immediately on our return, on what he intends to do about the situation?

Mr. Peart

This is an important matter. I will bear my hon. Friend's point in mind and make the necessary representations to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In view of the complexity, importance and enormous length of the National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill, does the right hon. Gentleman really think that back bencheis will have sufficient opportunity in a Second Reading debate limited to one day? In view of the size and importance of the Bill, will he consider giving us a two-day debate?

Mr. Peart

We had a day's debate recently on a matter affected by the Bill. I do not think that I could alter the business for the first week after the recess, but I will look into the matter. I repeat however, that I believe I cannot alter it.

Mr. Shinwell

My right hon. Friend is no doubt aware that discussions are proceeding between Her Majesty's Government and the Libyan Government on the provision of arms on a vast scale. May we have an assurance that, before any decision is reached, this House will be consulted by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Peart

I am aware that discussions are going on. I cannot, obviously, comment on them, but if any major decision is reached then my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would have to inform the House.

Mr. Shinwell

I am asking the Government whether the House will be consulted before decision is reached. As the House is not meeting for a month, I should like an assurance that no decisions will be reached in the interim.

Mr. Peart

I will make representations to my right hon. Friend about the matter.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us time to debate the problems and burdens placed on the boroughs of Macclesfield and Stockport regarding the high-rise apartments, which have to be modified at vast expenditure-60 per cent. of it borne by the ratepayers, although the boroughs were directed to put up this type of building by the Government? This is very important. We should have a full debate, as we had an unsatisfactory adjournment Debate three weeks ago.

Mr. Peart

I will look into it, but I cannot promise a full debate.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

The Films Bill is to be presented shortly. What arrangements has my right hon. Friend been making for its passage through the House?

Mr. Peart

I have announced the business for the week we come back and I do not see the Films Bill amongst it.

Mr. Fisher

I return to the questions put by my right hon. Friends the Members for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) and Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) and endorsed by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel Baker). Is the Leader of the House satisfied that he is treating this matter with sufficient urgency? After all, there are no politics in this. I am sure that he would agree that it is regarded as urgent by those who are pro-Biafra and those who are pro-Federal and that it might save many lives in Biafra? Will he consider the possibility of making an announcement tomorrow?

Mr. Peart

As I have said, I take this matter earnestly. It is important. It was raised by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), and the Government immediately reacted. The Foreign Office is aware of the feelings of right hon. and hon. Members and the study is going on.

Mrs. Ewing

Has the Leader of the House seen Motion No. 57—though it stands in my name it has the support of a representative of each party in this House—about injustices to old-age pensioners? Is it not time that the promise mentioned in that Motion was fulfilled and that we had a cost-of-living index to measure the matter?

[That this House, recognising that the level of old-age pension provision must in justice be linked to the cost of living, that the normal cost-of-living index is inadequate for this task in that it gives insufficient weight to the cost of essentials which are a greater proportion of the old people's budgets, and that, in particular, the cost of major items of essential expenditure for the aged is much higher in Scotland, calls upon the Government to institute the provision of a Scottish index with particular respect to its use in the calculation of adequate pension.]

Mr. Peart

I have seen the Motion, which raises a matter for my right hon. Friends. I assure the hon. Lady that I will draw their attention to it.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Further to the many requests that the right hon. Gentleman has received for an urgent reply to be given to the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) of the use of helicopters in supply relief in Biafra, and in view of the Motion which has been signed by many hon. Members to this effect, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say that if it should prove impracticable, for financial or other reasons, for this suggestion to be implemented, assistance will be given to Joint Church Aid, which is flying food into the area?

Mr. Peart

We have undertaken to have a detailed examination of the proposal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] This proposal and many others, including some made before this one, are being studied, but the study is not yet complete. As soon as it has been completed my right hon. Friend will make the results known.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Would the right hon. Gentleman provide an early opportunity for the House to debate the predicament of local authorities throughout the country now that they are ground between the upper and nether millstones of conflicting Government policy?

Mr. Peart

I cannot give such an undertaking, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made his point.

Mr. Rossi

Can the right hon. Gentleman advise us whether the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity will or will not make a statement on the inter-union dispute which is causing so much hardship to London Underground users? Does he recall that this is the third occasion on which such a statement has been requested and that this is the 13th week of a strike which is causing appalling conditions?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that negotiations are going on. My right hon. Friend will, if necessary, make a statement. I accept the importance of this matter, but as discussions are going on, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will regard this as a satisfactory answer.

Mr. Jopling

In view of the chaotic situation which faces the Standing Committee which is considering the Agriculture Bill, following the early rising of that Committee this morning, does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Government may have to drop the whole of Part II of the Bill? Will he examine this matter carefully and give an undertaking that before the Committee meets again the Government will explain how the Committee is to proceed, for there is enormous confusion at present?

Mr. Peart

I have nothing to add to what I said on the subject. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] If I said more I would only be repeating myself.

Mr. Orme

Reverting to the question of the London Transport dispute, may I remind my right hon. Friend that if he is to see the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity he should ask her to explain to the House why the London Transport Authority is refusing to carry out an agreement between itself and the A.E.F.? May I remind him that this is not an inter-union dispute?

Mr. Peart

I cannot get involved in arguments of that kind. As for the strike, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is meeting T. & G. W. U. do not think that it would be helpful for me to say more at this stage.

Sir tan Orr-Ewing

May I press the right hon. Gentleman to make a more satisfactory statement about Motion No. 76, relating to the giving of food relief to Nigeria and Biafra? In view of the widespread demand in all parts of the House for an early statement to be made on this matter, cannot that statement be made tomorrow? I am sure that the proceedings of the House could be arranged so that, at any time between the debates which will occur tomorrow, such a statement could be made.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the vital need for a statement to be made before we rise for Christmas, since this is a matter which cannot be left for another month while many millions of people starve?

[That this House, convinced of the practicability of a helicopter lift of food and medicines from commando ships and aircraft carriers, calls on Her Majesty's Government, in conjunction with all other governments able and willing to assist, to implement this imaginative proposal for the relief of human suffering.]

Mr. Peart

I accept that this is an important matter. I said that it is being carefully studied. I also said that the results of that study would be made known as quickly as possible.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

While all the study is going on, would it not have been proper and courteous for the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to have reported to the House on his mission? Could he report tomorrow?

Mr. Peart

I cannot agree to that. [Interruption.] The Minister is well aware of the importance of this matter; and I suggest that we should wait until the discussions have been completed.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

What has happened to the urgent Bill to implement the proposals of the Phelps Brown Report?

Mr. Peart

I cannot say precisely when it will be introduced. I replied on a previous occasion to a similar question, but there was a misunderstanding. The answer is, "Probably soon".

Mr. Blaker

Has the right hon. Gentlemen's attention been drawn to the important Report of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner in relation to the Duccio picture affair? is he aware that that report recommends that a further Ministerial statement should be made in view of the fact that the Commissioner found that certain previous remarks made by a former President of the Board of Trade were misplaced in relation to two named members of the London Society of Art Dealers? Will such a statement he made? If so, will it be made by that former President of the Board of Trade?

Mr. Peart

The report was published only on 16th December and I know that my right hon. Friends are considering it.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

As the Secretary of State for Scotland revealed yesterday that a record total of more than 8,000 Scottish school children, mainly in the West of Scotland, are receiving only part-time education and as that is four times the figure for last year, would the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State to make a statement on the subject as soon as we return after Christmas?

Mr. Peart

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

Mr. John Page

Would the right hon. Gentleman postpone the Second Reading of the National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill for at least a week? As the Bill was available to hon. Members only this morning, there will be less than 24 hours for us to study the matter and have discussions with our colleagues. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that that is sufficient time for hon. Members to consider the Bill in detail?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman must be fair. There have been many opportunities, and there will be more, for those discussions.

Mr. McMaster

Would the right hon. Gentleman undertake to ask his right hon. Friend to make a statement about the welfare of British citizens imprisoned in China who are facing another Christmas without even consular access? What progress is his right hon. Friend making in representations to the Chinese on this matter?

Mr. Peart

The Foreign Secretary will have taken note of the hon. Gentleman's questions.

Mr. Wiggin

As a result of the Government defeat on Clause 29 of the Agriculture Bill in Committee this morning, the agricultural machinery trade in particular and farmers in general will be left not knowing the intentions of the Government on this matter. Would the right hon. Gentleman therefore urge his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make an early statement on the Government's intentions about Part II of the Bill, if necessary to the Press?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman knows—

Mr. Michael Foot

On a point of order. Is it normal practice, Mr. Speaker, for it to be suggested in the House that the Leader of the House or other Ministers should comment on what happens in Committee upstairs? If this practice were allowed to continue, would it not lead to great confusion, especially when the monstrous suggestion is made that the Government should comment on matters occurring in Committee upstairs to the Press before the Report stage has been reached in this Chamber?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right about that. Hon. Members cannot, at Business question time, ask a Minister to communicate something to the Press. It would not be in order for the Leader of the House to be asked to comment on something that has happened in Committee upstairs. However, it is in order to ask him to ask the Minister concerned to make a statement. That is the purpose of Business Question time.

Mr. Hawkins

While not pressing the Leader of the House to comment on what occurred in Committee on the Agriculture Bill, may I ask him to promise that the members of that Committee will, if not before the Christmas Recess then during it, receive a statement setting out the Government's intentions in this matter, since without such a statement the Committee will not be able to proceed with the Bill upon our return?

Mr. Peart

Mr. Speaker has just given a Ruling on this matter. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is always the Report stage.

Dame Irene Ward

On a point of order. The Leader of the House said in reply to questions about the Committee considering the Agriculture Bill that there was always the Report stage. How can there be a Report stage on an unfinished Bill? That is a new idea. I wonder whether we could have some guidance on it.

Mr. Speaker

It is a very interesting point, but it is not a point of order.

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