HC Deb 23 January 1969 vol 776 cc666-74
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, 27TH JANUARY—Supply [6th Allotted Day]:

Until 7 p.m. there will be a debate on the Wootton Report, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House, followed by a debate on the Post Office, on an Opposition Motion.

TUESDAY, 28TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Pensions (Increase) Bill and of the Horserace Betting Levy Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 29TH JANUARY—Supply [7th Allotted Day]:

Debate on the Universities.

At Ten o'clock the Question will be put from the Chair on all outstanding Winter Supplementary Estimates.

Motion on the Salmon and Migratory Trout Order—

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Peart

—an important matter for Scotland.

THURSDAY, 30TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Redundancy Rebates Bill and of the Decimal Currency Bill.

FRIDAY, 31ST JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 3RD FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill.

Mr. Heath

Will the right hon. Gentleman take it that the House will undoubtedly wish to discuss the Government's White Paper on industrial relations at an early date? Will he say what his plans are in this respect, particularly as we shall soon be entering the period when we have our series of defence debates and it will, therefore, be difficult to fit in a debate of that kind? We should like to have one at a very early date.

Mr. Peart

I appreciate the point which the right hon. Gentleman makes, which is important. I feel that we should allow time for hon. Members on both sides to have discussions on it, but I agree that there is urgency here. I have no precise date to announce at the moment.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Has my right hon. Friend noticed Motion No. 109, on contributions by companies to organisations with political objects?

[That this House believes that it should be an offence for any company to use any part of its income or profits to make contributions to organisations with political objects unless there is contained in the articles of association or other deed of establishment of the company a clause specifically permitting such contributions; further believes such clause or clauses should be required to provide that such contributions may be made only out of a fund especially established for the purpose and shall further provide that any shareholder may opt out of such contributions and require his shares in the company to be unaffected by such payments both as to capital and dividends and in all other respects; and calls upon the Government to prepare legislation to this end.]

My right hon. Friend has not provided time next week to debate the matter. Will he draw it to the attention of his right hon. Friends, particularly having regard to the development of the unit trust movement and of the trade union unit trust, with the possibility that the trade union movement could be indirectly contributing to the funds of the Conservative Party?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the Motion in my hon. Friend's name. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade, made a statement on 10th July last. I am not commenting on that, but I cannot add to it, and I cannot find time just yet.

Sir D. Renton

On Tuesday, will not the debate on the Second Reading of the Pensions (Increase) Bill run until 10 o'clock, so that the Second Reading debate on the Horserace Betting Levy Bill will start at a late stage of the evening? Is that not somewhat unsatisfactory, bearing in mind that the second Bill contains a number of controversial provisions?

Mr. Peart

I understand the point. The rule will be suspended for the Horserace Betting Levy Bill.

Mr. Strauss

Can my right hon. Friend now tell us when we are likely to have a debate on the Report of the Committee of Privileges, which was published more than a year ago and which recommended a complete revision of the whole concept of Parliamentary privilege, with drastic changes in the procedure and penalties when breaches of privilege are alleged? Does my right hon. Friend realise that, without such a comprehensive discussion, consideration of the five minor points which he put on the Order Paper last week is comparatively useless and unimportant?

Mr. Peart

I do not accept that last comment. However, I have decided, because of representations made to me, that we should try to settle on a Motion which is widely acceptable to the House and to the Press and others affected by it. For this reason, in view of representations, I am reconsidering the matter.

I cannot be specific about a time for a major debate on the Report. It is an important matter. I should not want to rush conclusions which would be unsatisfactory from the point of view of the House.

Mr. Thorpe

May I ask the Leader of the House about business tomorrow, when there is to be a debate on a Private Member's Bill, the Matrimonial Property Bill? Is it not a fact—will he confirm it—that, traditionally, Private Members' Bills are entirely a matter for a free vote? Will he also confirm that a Whip has been sent out at least to Ministers? Would it not be better, in the light of our exchanges on an earlier occasion about Northern Ireland, to have one Minister, one free vote, so that there can be a genuine debate in the House?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. I have made my statement on next week's business, not tomorrow's business.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time next week for Motion No. 123, calling for information on railway line closures?

[That this House, bearing in mind the importance of a railway network adequate to the social and economic needs of the country, calls on Her Majesty's Government to make public the financial formulae used by the Minister of Transport to justify the closure of railway lines and to evaluate social subsidies where granted.]

Mr. Peart

I have seen the Motion in the names of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. I shall convey his views to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, but I cannot find time for a debate next week.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is the Leader of the House aware that on 5th November the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government told the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) and myself that he would as soon as possible introduce legislation to reform Section 39 of the Leasehold Reform Act? In the midst of all the important business for next week, dealing with trout, and so on, could he find time for this essential matter?

Mr. Peart

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not denigrate the Order dealing with salmon or other matters affecting Scotland. It is true that the Parliamentary Secretary replied in those terms. I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I shall have discussions.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

With reference to business for Friday of next week, in view of the growing practice of the Government in issuing three-line Whips on matters on which we have had Ballots for private Members' business, and on which we go through the farce of introducing Private Members' Bills, may we have an assurance that no three-line Whips will be issued for next week, as against this week?

Mr. Peart

The issuing of Whips is not my responsibility.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the announcement about the business for Monday week mean that the Government intend to allot only one day for the Second Reading of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill? Do not all the precedents point to giving at least two days to a major, controversial Measure of constitutional significance?

Mr. Peart

I should have thought that one day would be adequate—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We shall have had two days; we have had the White Paper debate. I believe that this is reasonable.

Mr. Thomas Steele

Will my right bon. Friend consider Motion No. 18?

[That this House welcomes the increase in pension being made to retired public service personnel but notes, with regret, that no provision is being made to give parity of treatment to railway superannuitants where there is even greater hardship, especially among older pensioners; and therefore urges Her Majesty's Government to make special provisions to improve their pensions.]

As we are having a debate on public service pensions on Tuesday, could the Motion be debated then?

Mr. Peart

That is a very good point, but it is a matter for Mr. Speaker, who, I hope, will note what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

Can the House be informed about the membership of the proposed Constitutional Commission? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the strong feeling in Wales that because the main purpose of the Commission will be to examine the national future of Wales and Scotland the majority of its members should be Scottish and Welsh, and that the chairman should be independent, impartial and quite unprejudiced in the matter, approaching it with an open mind?

Mr. Peart

I have always understood the nationalistic views of the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will not be a jingoist on this matter. There is a big difference. When the Government have decided on the composition of the Commission, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will inform the House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. On a matter of order, may I make it clear, in view of what the Leader of the House said just now, that whether a Motion is taken in conjunction with the debate on the Pensions (Increase) Bill is a matter not for the Chair, but for the Government.

Mr. Thomas Steele

On a point of order. In view of what you have just said, Mr. Speaker, will my right hon. Friend now answer my original question, whether the two can be taken together?

Mr. Peart

I tried to suggest to my hon. Friend that he could perhaps raise that issue during that debate, whether or not the Motion was put down or accepted.

Mr. Shinwell

Does not my right hon. Friend regard the Parliament (No. 2) Bill as involving a major constitutional issue? If he does, is not it appropriate that we should have more than one day to debate it on Second Reading?

Mr. Peart

I accept that this is a very important matter. If there is an overwhelming demand for two days—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I shall consider it. But I have also had representations the other way. One has to balance these. Let us talk through the usual channels.

Mr. Peyton

While I am sure that the whole House was gratified to hear that the right hon. Gentleman understood my right hon. Friend's question about the Horserace Betting Levy Bill, would not he agree, on reflection, that it is a shabby manoeuvre to stuff a controversial Bill under the carpet late at night, and that he should give the House a full opportunity to debate it?

Mr. Peart

I have given the opportunity. There is no attempt on my part to deceive or to behave in a shabby way. I thought that this was for the convenience of hon. Members.

Mr. Sheldon

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Parliament (No. 2) Bill is one of the greatest constitutional Measures of our time? It would be shameful if it were not properly discussed here. Will he reconsider his decision not to give two days to it?

Mr. Peart

I have noted what my hon. Friends have said on this, and will convey their views to my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Crouch

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Motion No. 81?

[That this House considers that the inordinate delay in setting up the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, in contravention of undertakings given last Session by the then Leader of the House, casts grave doubt on the Government's good faith in dealing with Select and Specialist Committees and with the House as a whole.]

It is almost six months to the day since the Select Committee sat. What are the Government trying to hide? Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that we shall see the Select Committee established again?

Mr. Peart

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand why there has been delay. There is no secret about this. I have had discussions with the Chairman, and I am anxious to get the Committee set up. There have been difficulties about terms of reference.

Mrs. Ewing

When will the Leader of the House be able to disclose the composition of the Constitutional Commissions? Does he remember that I asked this question in December, when I received a rather encouraging reply? Will he ensure that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) and I, or official representatives of our parties, will be invited, and also assure the House that the terms of reference will not preclude the consideration of Commonwealth status for Wales and Scotland?

Mr. Peart

I am not sure what the hon. Lady is asking for. She will always be at liberty to put forward evidence to the Commission. When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is ready, he will make a statement to the House.

Mr. Jennings

If the right hon. Gentleman is to reconsider allocating another day to the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, will he give us an assurance that he will not sacrifice the debate on public service pensions on Tuesday and that it will still be included in next week's business?

Mr. Peart

I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point. It is very important, and he has pressed me on it before. He has asked me to stand by the programme that I have announced, but hon. Members on both sides have made representations about another matter, and I will consider them. After all, I am not only a member of the Government, but must serve the House.

Mr. Jennings

On a point of order. This debate has been promised for a long time.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

Mr. Lawson

May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that were he to put a Scottish or Welsh Nationalist on the Constitutional Commission it might be an excellent means of educating that person? Will he consider it from that point of view?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the point made.

Mr. Ronald Bell

The Leader of the House has again made no provision next week for a debate on British Standard Time. Will he provide Government time in which the British Standard Time Act (Repeal) Bill may at last be debated?

Mr. Peart

I know the hon. and learned Gentleman's views. He presses them very effectively, but I cannot find time for the Bill.

Mr. Jennings

On a point of order. I was under a misapprehension, but so was the Leader of the House. We both made the mistake of thinking that the debate on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill was to be next Monday. I gather that it is to be the following Monday, and, therefore, my point does not arise. I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Speaker

That is a real point of order.

Mr. Pardoe

Now that the Government have published their reply, in the form of a White Paper, to the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on oil pollution, which has been out for some time, may we have an indication that he regards it as a matter for urgent consideration? Will he arrange an early debate?

Mr. Peart

It is important. I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I cannot do so next week.

Sir Knox Cunningham

In view of the major constitutional issue and the volume of support from hon. Members on both sides for more time for the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman consult the Deputy Leader of the House and come to an understanding to give an extra day?

Mr. Peart

I have stated my views, and I cannot indulge in too much repetition.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Does my right hon. Friend understand that the misgivings of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) about the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries are very much shared on this side of the House? Will he convey to his colleagues the deep sense of frustration and annoyance that many of us feel about the Government's action in the matter?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the position, and I explained why there has been the delay. I have been in touch continually with the Chairman of the Committee. I am anxious to get this settled.

Sir D. Glover

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will not convey to his right hon. Friend the views of the two nationalist hon. Members because I think the view of the bulk of the House is that we should have a very broadly based constitutional Commission to deal with the whole problem of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Peart

I certainly accept the views of the hon. Member.