HC Deb 27 February 1969 vol 778 cc1930-7
Mr. Heath

May I ask the Leader of the House to 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 wek will be as follows:

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

Remaining stages of the National Theatre Bill.

TUESDAY, 4TH MARCH —Motion on the Statement on Defence (Command No. 3927).

Motions on Town and Country Planning Orders.

WEDNESDAY, 5TH MARCH —Conclusion of the Debate on Defence.

Remaining stages of the Horserace Betting Levy Bill.

Motions on the Income Tax Transitional Relief (Extension of Period) Orders.

THURSDAY, 6TH MARCH —Motion on the White Paper on Proposals for Earnings-Related Social Security (Command No. 3883).

Motion on the International Development Association (Additional Payments) Order.

FRIDAY, 7TH MARCH —Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 10TH MARCH —Supply [10th Allotted Day]:

Navy Estimates, 1969–70, Vote A.

Mr. Heath

As to Thursday's business, on social security, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what form the Government's Motion will take?

I note that Monday week's business is concerned with the Navy Estimates. There is an interval between the Defence debate and that on the Navy Estimates. Can the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the debates on the other Service Estimates are well spread out and do not occur on a series of days?

The right hon. Gentleman will have noted the intense interest of the House during Questions today in the implications of the increase in the Bank Rate. Can he assure us that the Government will provide time for a debate on the implications of this increase at the earliest opportunity, preferably the week after next?

Mr. Peart

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, about the terms of the Motion for Thursday, I hope to have it tabled this evening. It will be similar to the one on the White Paper "In Place of Strife".

I will bear in mind the right hon. Gentleman's second question on the spacing of the debates on the Defence Votes.

I cannot promise a debate on the Bank Rate increase.

Mr. Heath

I want to press the right hon. Gentleman rather hard on the last point, on which it is apparent that there is intense interest in all quarters of the House. It is obviously a serious matter that, once again, the Bank Rate should be at 8 per cent. There have been discussions between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States about the international financial situation. There is every reason for the Government to provide at the earliest opportunity at least a day so that we can discuss it.

Mr. Peart

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says, but he will appreciate that I am pressed for time.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would remind the House that the time spent on business questions is growing. We have an important debate ahead. I would urge hon. Members to show some voluntary rationing in questions.

Mr. Shinwell

I observe that the Leader of the House is not bringing forward the remaining stages of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill next week. Will he consult with his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as to whether it would not be desirable, in all the circumstances, not to bring the Bill forward at all? Is he aware that very few hon. Members on either side of the House really want the Bill to proceed?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is drifting into the merits. He may ask for the Bill to be debated more, or less, or not at all.

Mr. Shinwell

Mr. Speaker, the reason why I asked the question is that I am concerned about another Bill which I regard as being of extreme importance. It is one which was promised by the Government, namely, the Merchant Shipping Bill. I accept your guidance, as always, and I will address my question in another fashion.

Instead of proceeding with the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, which apparently very few hon. Members want, except for the two Front Benches, will the Government proceed with the Merchant Shipping Bill, which is being asked for by a large number of hon. Members and the trade unions concerned?

Mr. Peart

My right hon. Friend will appreciate that, in relation to the Divisions on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, he represents the minority—[HON. MEMDERS: "No."] I know that he takes that view. But one has only to look at the facts—

Mr. Heffer

What about the number of abstentions?

Mr. Peart

I am not finding time next week. My right hon. Friend suggests that the Bill has not had a great deal of support in the House, but he will remember that it received a Second Reading.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

In view of what the Father of the House has said—[Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. He is the Deputy Father, I think.

Mr. Fraser

In view of what the Deputy Father of the House has said—

Sir C. Taylor

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I point out to my right hon. Friend that I am the Deputy Father of the House?

Mr. Fraser

In view of the fact that the Father of the House and the two Deputy Fathers are bitterly opposed to the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, along with most hon. Members on the back benches, would the Leader of the House consider the immediate calling of a Speaker's Conference so that both Front Benches can get off this ridiculous hook?

Mr. Peart

That does not come up on next week's business, and in any event, I would answer "No" to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal.

Mr. Heffer

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that, as soon as possible, we shall have an opportunity to discuss the White Paper concerned with the reorganisation and nationalisation of the ports, which is regarded by many hon. Members on this side of the House as being of more importance and more vital to the interests of the nation than the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, which many hon. Members feel could be dropped altogether with great profit to the House and the nation as a whole?

Mr. Peart

I will bear in mind the possibility of a debate on ports reorganisation.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Bearing in mind the new high Bank Rate, the industrial unrest at Ford's, and possibly in the steel industry, ought not these matters to take precedence over the Parliament (No. 2) Bill and the House be given an opportunity to discuss them, as they affect the living of everyone in the country? Will the Leader of the House take note of these matters, because the country wants them to be discussed?

Mr. Peart

I will take note of them. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has also pressed the question of a debate on the Bank Rate.

Mr. Luard

May I ask how often, when the Bank Rate was raised under a Conservative Government, a day was provided to debate the matter?

Mr. Peart

I am sorry. I could not hear my hon. Friend.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard) can ask the Government only something for which the Government are responsible.

Mr. Molloy

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he thinks it might now be possible to have an emergency debate, in view of the serious situation in Europe, on E.F.T.A. and the Common Market, the position of this country, and the fact that many people are concerned? Surely this is now a subject for urgent discussion.

Mr. Peart

We are to have a debate on foreign affairs. I answered a question on this last week. I recognise the importance of the point made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Lubbock

As there is a desire on both sides of the House for a limitation of the amount of time spent on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, will the Leader of the House reconsider the suggestion which I made to him last Thursday and the Thursday before, that we should have a timetable Motion?

Mr. Peart

That is another matter.

Sir Dingle Foot

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if he would reconsider his reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and the Government would now drop, or at any rate radically amend, the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, this would be welcomed in the House and throughout the country? Does he agree that many matters, notably the situation in the Middle East, are far more urgent to be debated than the Parliament (No. 2) Bill?

Mr. Peart

My right hon. and learned Friend will appreciate that I have already made the position clear.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is the Leader of the House aware that the cessation for 10 days of the right hon. Gentleman's and the Government's concern with a Bill which has almost monopolised the House for the last fortnight, at least raises the question that its future is under consideration? Can he give us at least that bit of relief?

Mr. Peart

I could not respond to that invitation.

Mr. Michael Foot

The Leader of the House says that he has already made clear the position about the Parliament (No. 2) Bill

Mr. Peart

Regarding next week.

Mr. Foot

May I ask whether he could further assist us in trying to make clear the views of the Opposition on the Bill, since we have tried for four days to discover their view? We would like an official statement of their view before there is any resumption of debate on the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not debating the Parliament (No. 2) Bill now.

Mr. Dickens

In view of the serious implications of the 8 per cent. Bank Rate, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will take note that the demand for an early debate on the economy is by no means confined to the other side of the House?

Mr. Peart

Yes, I certainly will take note of that.

Sir D. Glover

Knowing the right hon. Gentleman's fondness for the House and getting through the business with expedition, may I ask whether he will consult the Prime Minister? Today, we got through only one Question in a quarter of an hour with the Prime Minister answering. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Foreign Secretary to deal with Prime Minister's Questions in future, because the last time he did this we dealt with all the Questions in a quarter of an hour?

Mr. Peart

The matter of Questions, speed and the time allotted for the Prime Minister is for the Chair.

Mr. Sheldon

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on not finding time for the Parliament (No. 2) Bill next week, may I ask whether he accepts that what is most important at this stage, if we are to proceed with it at all, is to have before the House the nature of the bargain entered into by the two Front Benches, which we have been unable to unravel during the course of the debate so far?

Mr. Peart

It is not included in next week's business. I have made my position clear

Mr. Silvester

Will the Leader of the House say whether he intends to issue the Writ for the Walthamstow, East by-election next week?

Mr. Peart

Not next week.

Mr. Pavitt

As there is no longer a senior Minister to answer Questions on Health, will my right hon. Friend consider the dissatisfaction that has occurred on timing and about a way in which this could be dealt with at Question Time on Mondays?

Mr. Peart

I will look into this, but it is a matter for mutual arrangement between both sides.

Mr. Hastings

As for two weeks no one on either side of the House has had anything nice to say about the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, may I ask the Leader of the House, so that we can make plans for the summer, if not for the autumn as well, to let us know how long it will take? Would it not save the Government a great deal of embarrassment if they dropped the Bill altogether?

Mr. Peart

I note the views of the hon. Gentleman. He has made them quite clear.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we have a lot of business ahead.

Mr. Winnick

If the report in The Times is confirmed by the Government, that civilians and hospitals are being deliberately bombed in Biafra, will the Government arrange for a special debate so that the matter can be discussed as soon as possible in view of the continuation of supplies of British arms to Nigeria?

Mr. Peart

I think that the Prime Minister, in answering a Question today, said that he was inquiring into it. But I will bear it in mind.

Mr. Winnick

We want a debate.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to Motion No. 174—

[That this House congratulates the Daily Express and their political and industrial correspondents on being able, days before any Government announcement is made, completely and accurately to publish details of Government plans and intentions, particulars of the dates when the Government intend officially publishing and announcing such details to the House of Commons, and is of the opinion that to be able to publish such scoops without the help of the Government, Ministers, civil servants and others in authority, and without the assistance of officially inspired leaks is the height of perfection in political journalism.]

As about a fortnight ago the Daily Express published all the details which were confirmed by the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs yesterday, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend will formally get this Motion agreed, because that would easily dispose of it and save time?

Mr. Peart

I cannot find time for it next week, but I note my hon. Friend's views.

Mr. Henig

Has my right hon. Friend seen Motion No. 169—

[That this House, deeply concerned about the continued fighting in the Nigerian civil war, calls upon Her Majesty's Government: To make a fresh approach to other countries sending military equipment to the combatants with a view to securing through international action a complete embargo on the supply of arms to both sides; To use its good offices to try to bring about a meeting between General Gowon and Colonel Ojukuwu to discuss an immediate ceasefire; Substantially to increase the flow of food and other forms of economic aid to alleviate the suffering caused by the war in both Nigeria and Biafra.]—

signed by nearly 100 right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House?

May I ask my right hon. Friend to arrange time for a debate on this complex matter and allow, at the end of the debate, a vote on the subject, as there has not yet been a vote on Nigeria? I am certain that the Government would like the advice of hon. Members.

Mr. Peart

I have noted the terms of the Motion, asking for a peace initiative in Nigeria. The Prime Minister has already made a statement on this today.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. John Smith.

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