HC Deb 20 February 1969 vol 778 cc767-78
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, 24TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, remaining stages of the Vehicle and Driving Licences Bill.

Prayer on the Public Service Vehicles (Licences and Certificates) (Amendment) Regulations.

TUESDAY, 25TH FEBRUARY and WEDNESDAY, 26TH FEBRUARY—Committee stage of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill.

THURSDAY, 27TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Development of Tourism Bill.

FRIDAY, 28TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 3RD MARCH—Debate on the White Paper "In Place of Strife", Command No. 3888.

Mr. Heath

On the business for Monday week, the right hon. Gentleman has not followed his usual custom of telling us the form of the debate. Do the Government intend to put down a Motion to approve the White Paper, "In Place of Strife"?

Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a growing feeling that the time has come for a further debate on foreign affairs? I do not think that it is satisfactory that we should try to combine this with the debate in due course on the Defence White Paper. Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that we would like a debate on foreign affairs before Easter?

Mr. Peart

On the second matter, I shall bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I agree that it is not satisfactory to have foreign affairs intermingled with defence, although often the subjects can be related.

It might be for the convenience of the House if I say that during the week after next we shall have a debate on the Defence White Paper. I hope that there will be the usual two-day debate. I think that it might be useful for the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to know that.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Motion on industrial relations has not yet been drafted. As soon as it is, I shall arrange for it to be put on the Order Paper so that hon. Members will have an opportunity to consider it. I think that it is desirable that the House should come to a firm view, one way or the other, on the principles involved.

Mr. Heath

Would not it be a good idea if the Government came to a firm view on it one way or the other? Surely the right hon. Gentleman must know whether the Government have decided to approve their own White Paper?

Mr. Peart

I do not want to get involved in a debating point now, but that also applies to both sides of the House. As soon as it is drafted I will see that the Motion is put on the Order Paper.

Mr. Sheldon

Will my right hon. Friend give further consideration to with drawing from next week's business the Parliament (No. 2) Bill? Its obvious absurdities are now being seen more generally by everyone. It is very difficult to find——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot have a long speech at this stage.

Mr. Sheldon

I humbly submit that, with you in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, I would never even attempt it.

Would my right hon. Friend accept that there are now becoming divisions between both Front Benches and alliances between both back benches and that that is not necessarily a good thing for Parliament? Will he take the opportunity to discuss the Bill very carefully through the usual channels to see whether it can be dropped at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend is right. The House has noted that there have been some unusual alliances. My reply to him is, "No, Sir."

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter rose——

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order. Following the exchange between the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the House, can you protect back benchers, Mr. Speaker? The idea of announcing the business for next week is so that hon. Members can make their arrangements and carry out their Parliamentary duties. It is impossible to do that in view of the announcement which the right hon. Gentleman made for Monday week without giving the details of the Motion to be entered into. If Parliamentarians are to arrange their programmes so as to do their duty, they must be given full information.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That point has already been put to the House, rather more succinctly, by the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

If it is intended to proceed with the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, could the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the difficulties of which he is aware and which arose this morning, arrange that somewhat earlier notice be given of a decision to carry on the debate the following morning than 11.30 the previous night?

Mr. Peart

The right hon. Gentleman knows the Standing Order relating to suspensions. If we can do as he asks, I shall be only too pleased to consider it, but we will proceed with the Bill.

Mr. Milne

Will my right hon. Friend consider the possibilities of an early debate on European unity, in view of the recent widespread perambulations in Europe and the need to clarify the situation?

Mr. Peart

I understand my hon. Friend's point. This was stressed by the Leader of the Opposition, when he emphasised the need for a foreign affairs debate.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Can the right hon. Gentleman at least guarantee that, in view of the widespread industrial difficulties in the motor and the steel industries, there will be a clear indication of the Government's own view of their fundamental proposals on labour relations a good time before we debate them a week on Monday?

Mr. Peart

There will be opportunities on the White Paper to debate these matters.

Mr. Michael Foot

Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether the business that he proposes for Tuesday and Wednesday was compiled before the debates that we had last night and before we had the debates this morning on this same subject? Will he take into account the fact that there is an entirely new situation on this subject? Would he present it to the Cabinet, so that we can have a statement on Monday as to whether this business is to proceed?

Referring to the alliances which he mentioned, would my right hon. Friend take into account the fact that, whereas the alliance of the back benches is getting stronger, the alliance of the Front Benches, who have to push through this Measure, is getting weaker?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not argue the merits of his request for a debate or non-debate.

Mr. Peart

I have announced the business.

Mr. English

Further to that point of order—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is not a point of order."] On a point of order, then. The question in dispute is whether there are any merits to be discussed at all.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order, either.

Mr. Peyton

Can the right hon. Gentleman take us into his confidence and say why he is being so extraordinarily difficult about the Motion on the White Paper? The House is very anxious to know in good time whether or not the Government approve their own White Paper. That is the simple point.

Mr. Peart

I thought that my reply was satisfactory.

Sir Dingle Foot

Apart from the general issues which would be raised in a debate on foreign affairs, is it not now a matter of great urgency to debate the situation in the Middle East?

Mr. Peart

This matter has been stressed by hon. Members last week as well. I must say, "Not next week", but I have noted what my hon. and learned Friend has said.

Mr. Younger

Could the right hon. Gentleman give us any time next week to discuss the positive waterfall of leaks this week on the Defence White Paper? If we cannot be secure on that, where can we be?

Mr. Peart

There will be an opportunity to debate matters on the White Paper when it comes.

Mr. Orme

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members are greatly concerned at the Government's delay in introducing the necessary legislation on merchant shipping and the public ownership of the docks? Why cannot we have time for that next week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, instead of this frivolous Bill that the Government insist on going ahead with?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend should not say that the Parliament Bill is a frivolous Bill. He may have his point of view, but it is a very important constitutional matter. I should like to find time for many important subjects which could be affected by a long delay on that Bill.

Mr. Lubbock

As the Parliament (No. 2) Bill threatens to turn into the longest running comedy since the days of Harold Lloyd——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot repeat at Question Time a debate that we had in Committee.

Mr. Lubbock

Would the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the request that I made to him last week to impose a timetable Motion on this Bill, so that far more important matters which are awaiting the attention of the House can be debated?

Mr. Peart

I am tempted to reply in the terms that the hon. Member adopted in his contribution to our debates last week.

Mr. James Griffiths

I gather from my right hon. Friend that he is contemplating, if not this week or next week, in the early future, a debate on overseas affairs. Would he bear in mind that now, under the new arrangement, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs also has responsibility for the Commonwealth and the Colonies? Would he therefore arrange that, in that debate, we can discuss the urgent situation in Nigeria?

Mr. Peart

I do bear this in mind. I have said on previous occasions that, if we can sectionalise the debate, it is a good thing.

Dame Irene Ward

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed the Motion standing in my name and the names of several of my hon. Friends on the abnormal rise in the cost-of-living index?

[That this House deplores the fact that the official index of retail prices now shows the biggest annual increase for 17 years.]

As this affects every man, woman and child in the country, would it not be democratic to allow a debate on that issue at an early opportunity?

Mr. Orme

On Tuesday.

Mr. Peart

I note what the hon. Lady says, but not next week.

Mr. Brooks

Has my right hon. Friend noticed Motion No. 160, regarding the criminological fantasies of the Leader of the Opposition?

[That this House views with interest the Leader of the Opposition's argument that crime is due to the Government, since this may explain why there was an increase of 260 per cent. in crimes of violence against the person, and of 75 per cent. in frauds and false pretences, between 1951 and 1964]

Would it be possible, so as to get the record straight, to invite the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement, possibly during Prayers on Monday, to make it clear that the annual rate of increase of indictable offence——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions to the Government must be about what the Government are responsible for.

Mr. Brooks

—during the 13 years of Tory government was twice as high as that in the four years of Labour government?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is drifting into the merits of what he wants debate, and what he is asking for is not the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Peart

I have noted the Motion with interest. The subject to which he refers, I should have thought, could be raised when we debate law and order on Monday.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that last year we had six successive days for the general defence debate with individual defence debates and that this did not make for a proper examination and consideration of these important matters? Will he arrange business so that the individual debates do not take place successively, and that there is a pause between the two?

Mr. Peart

I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. John Lee

Reverting to the Parliament (No. 2) Bill pantomime, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that we have already spent four days, including morning sitting extensions, on this Measure? How many more plenary sessions does my right hon. Friend calculate we will need to complete the Committee stage of the Bill?

Mr. Peart

We must wait and see.

Sir D. Glover

Following the right hon. Gentleman's recent comments, may I ask him when we can expect the Second Reading of the Parliament (No. 3) Bill?

Mr. John Mendelson

Does my right hon. Friend recall that he gave a promise that the House would have an early debate on foreign affairs, with special reference to a given subject, say, European affairs? Does he realise that his announcement about having the defence debate first is putting the cart before the horse? Is it not scandalous that the House will not debate foreign affairs next week, before considering the Defence Estimates? Could not such a debate take place, with the result that some of next week's business could be delayed a little longer?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend knows the traditional allowance on the White Paper for debates on defence and policy. There will be an important debate on Monday. I am pressed time and again to have debates of this kind. I thought that I gave my hon. Friend a sympathetic answer the other week.

Mr. Hastings

Concerning the debate on Monday week, is it a fact that the right hon. Gentleman cannot say whether or not the House will be asked to approve the White Paper?

Mr. Peart

I have already answered that.

Hon. Members


Mr. Hector Hughes

May I supplement the appeal made by hon. Members for a debate on merchant shipping, an important subject on which our exports depend?

Mr. Peart

I thought that the question related to the Merchant Shipping Bill, which is a rather different matter.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

If the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to say what form the debate will take on Monday, will he make sure that time is provided for the Postmaster-General to condemn the inflammatory broadcasts on B.B.C. television last night?

Mr. Peart

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the debate which will take place a week on Monday. There is ample time in which to study the relevant Motion.

Mr. Ogden

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that in October the Government gave a firm assurance that they would bring forward proposals for amending the merchant shipping legislation this Session? Is he aware that there is great danger of time running out? May we have an assurance that priority will be given to the Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill?

Mr. Peart

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. As he is aware, the use of time is developing in certain ways by certain Members, and this makes things difficult.

Sir C. Taylor

Is it not a bit early to have the Second Reading debate of the Development of Tourism Bill? Would it not be more convenient for hon. Members to have more time in which to consult their constituents, associations and organisations before that stage of the Bill is taken?

Mr. Peart

I would have thought that the time available had been adequate. I agree that this is an important Bill.

Mr. Roebuck

Are we to understand from my right hon. Friend's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) that the Government have made no assessment whatever of the progress that is likely to be made next week with the Parliament (No. 2) Bill? If so, are we to go on discussing this silly Measure for two days every week? Is he aware that he should take it away and dump it somewhere?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend should not make that assumption. He knows the reasons for the present position.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

While agreeing with the Leader of the House that the Parliament (No. 2) Bill is important, may I ask him to agree that it could wait a little longer while there are such pressing events in the Middle East arising out of the Arab-Israel conflict and the possibility of grave events arising out of Berlin? Will he therefore keep his mind open, through the usual channels, to the possibility of substituting debates at short notice on these vital matters should conditions worsen?

Mr. Peart

I note the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but I cannot alter next week's business in the way he implies.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

In view of one of the more undesirable imports from the Western hemisphere, namely, filibustering introduced into the House by the killers of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill—would my right hon. Friend consider——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must talk about the business he wants or does not want debated. He must not now debate what we have been debating in Committee for three days.

Mr. Tuck

Would my right hon. Friend consider applying the Guillotine to the Bill?

Mr. Peart

I have noted my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

In view of the time being consumed in Committee on the largely unsupported Parliament (No. 2) Bill, can the right hon. Gentleman say how long the Easter, Whitsun and Summer Recesses are likely to be?

Mr. Peart

I suppose that the hon. and learned Gentleman is right to raise this matter, because I have mentioned dates. If hon. Members press me so vigorously about certain matters, and they wish to make contributions in the way they have described, then perhaps we would need to reconsider this matter.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be disgraceful if the Government did not keep their promise to introduce merchant shipping legislation this Session?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the importance of this matter, and I am anxious to be sympathetic.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

Would the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking, in view of the widespread disquiet in country areas and not least in the more remote areas, that as a result of the reorganisation committee on eggs which he appointed, we will have an early debate on this important subject?

Mr. Peart

That will occur as soon as possible and when the relevant Order is presented.

Mr. McNamara

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is two years to the month since the Pearson Committee reported on the shipping industry and that the Government have given an undertaking that the necessary Bill would be introduced this Session? May we now have an undertaking that it will not only be introduced, but passed this Session?

Mr. Peart

I could not give that undertaking until we see what progress is made.

Mr. Hooson

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on the desirability of making ex gratia payments to the early victims of the foot-and-mouth epidemic last year, in view of the obvious difficulties that have arisen between the Government, the N.F.U. and the farmers who were involved?

Mr. Peart

The hon. and learned Gentleman must wait until my right hon. Friend has declared his position in the matter.

Mr. English

Would my right hon. Friend consider resummoning the bipartisan negotiating committee on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill so that it may consider the strong opposition that has come from both back benches? Is he aware that this might, even to a small extent, speed the progress of what I can only call the "both Front Benches' Bill"?

Mr. Peart

I have noted my hon. Friend's interesting comment. I have already announced the business for next week.

Mr. Winnick

If it is intended that the House should have only one day on Monday week to debate "In Place of Strife", may I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider the position, since two days should be provided for this important subject.

Mr. Peart

I am aware of my hon. Friend's feeling in this matter. However, we will be having the Defence White Paper debate and it is traditional for two days to be given to that.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

As it was revealed this morning that only two members of the Government are wholeheartedly in favour of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not drift into this morning's debate.

Mr. Lewis

—and as it would appear that only one back bencher is in favour of it, why is my right hon. Friend so anxious to push the Bill through, if it has only three supporters?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate, at business question time, the merits of a Bill which is before the House. Hon. Members may ask for more time to discuss it—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—or less time, or no time at all to discuss it.

Mr. Ellis

Would my right hon. Friend note that it is difficult to discuss in the House matters concerning the Meteorological Office? Is he aware that this subject can be raised only when defence is being debated, and then only if the relevant Motion is sufficiently widely drawn? In view of the shocking weather that we have been having, will he ensure that it will be possible for hon. Members to debate this issue?

Mr. Peart

I will look sympathetically at that suggestion.

Mr. Judd

In view of the widespread anxiety among social workers throughout the country about the future of the social services, can my right hon. Friend say when we are likely to debate the Seebohm recommendations on the future of the social services?

Mr. Peart

Not at this stage.

Mr. Walden

Reverting to the business for next Tuesday and Wednesday, as my right hon. Friend has declined to withdraw the Bill,—indeed, as he has sought the co-operation of the House in expediting its progress—will he consider recommending to the Cabinet that the Government drop the Clauses relating to composition and proceed with the Clauses relating to powers.

Mr. Peart

I note my hon. Friend's suggestion. But we must proceed next week, as I said.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the proposition made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) about debating the Meteorological Office concerns a topic which is probably the most important to the country at present? Is he aware that the country are far more concerned with the weather than with the Parliament (No. 2) Bill and that, as the Government are being blamed for the weather, this matter should be debated?

Mr. Peart

I cannot do more than I have said.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on. Mr. Roy Jenkins. Statement.