HC Deb 30 January 1969 vol 776 cc1539-47
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, 3RD FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill.

Prayer on the Dawley New Towns (Designation) Amendment (Telford) Order.

TUESDAY, 4TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 5TH FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund Bill which, under Standing Order No. 89, will be formal.

Second Reading of the Administration of Justice Bill [Lords], and of the Genocide Bill [Lords].

And, if there is time, the remaining stages of the New Towns Bill.

THURSDAY, 6TH FEBRUARY—Supply [8th Allotted day].

Debate on Home Ownership and the Land Commission, which will arise on an Opposition Motion. Motion on the Anti-Dumping Duty (No. 2) Order.

FRIDAY, 7TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 10TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Housing Bill.

Mr. Heath

Can the right hon. Gentleman now give us the date of the debate which the Government will have on their White Paper on Industrial Relations?

Mr. Peart

I am sorry, I cannot give the date at this stage.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Hector Hughes.

Mr. Hector Hughes rose

Mr. Heath rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Heath.

Mr. William Hamilton

On a point of order. I distinctly heard you, Mr. Speaker, call my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). The practice of calling the Leader of the House every time he rises is becoming intolerable.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is a long-term practice of the Chair to call the Leader of the Opposition when he rises.

Mr. Hamilton

Further to the point of order. With due respect, it is not the continual practice of the Chair to do this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] You may recollect, Mr. Speaker—I recollect—that Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown, many years ago, chastised Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, for seeking to take the kind of advantage that the Leader of the Opposition is seeking to take.

Mr. Speaker

I have no recollection of the incident to which the hon. Member refers. Mr. Heath.

Mr. Heath

May I press the Leader of the House about my question, because he has already acknowledged that we should have a debate of that kind at an early date? Will he, therefore, give urgent consideration to this matter and be able to tell us next week the date on which we can have the debate?

Mr. Peart

I thought that there should be adequate time for hon. Members to have consultations and make up their minds about the details of the White Paper. I realise that this is an important matter, but I cannot give a precise date.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for all or any of the four Motions which I have on the Order Paper, and all of which are of urgent public importance? They are Nos. 111, 112—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Member can ask for time for only one of them.

Mr. Hughes

I am drawing the attention of the Leader of the House to the particular Motions for which I am asking him to give time. They are—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Member did not hear. He may ask for time for one of them. He must choose.

Mr. Hughes

There is one with particular reference to Scottish unemployment, which is very important to the people of Scotland.

[That this House is shocked by the unnecessary and untimely threat by British Railways to close the railway locomotive works at Inverurie thereby increasing unemployment in North-East Scotland, increasing the already injurious trend south of workers and their families, the further concentration of workers and population in South-West Scotland and requests the Government to set up a Royal Commission to devise means of spreading population and industry and employment more evenly throughout Scotland, of improving communications between Northern Scotland and Europe and the United States of America and thereby increasing British export trade and Scottish prosperity and happiness.]

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the enthusiasm of my hon. and learned Friend in these matters and the way he pleads his case; but I cannot find time for a debate next week.

Dame Irene Ward

Will the Leader of the House consider having two days to deal with the old Ministry of Health and new Ministry of Social Security Questions, because as a result of the amalgamation the situation today is that we are shutting down on the opportunity of back-bench Members to put Questions on the humanities, and this is against democracy? Will the right hon. Gentleman please try to arrange that we shall have a proper opportunity to deal with these matters?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Lady has put her case. As she knows, the question of the roster is arranged in consultation with the Opposition. If there were evidence of a general desire for change, there would be no difficulty about discussing it.

Mr. Murray

May we ask for a rearrangement of the business to enable us to have a debate on immigration, so that we can at last get a straightforward statement from the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Peart

I cannot alter the business for that.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Conservative Opposition have been very unoriginal in their choice of subject for the Supply day next Thursday, when they have chosen to debate home ownership and the Land Commission, in view of the fact that the Second Reading of the Housing Bill is to take place the following Monday?

Will the right hon. Gentleman consult the Conservative Opposition with a view to seeing that some of the other important subjects mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, including industrial relations, the raising of the school-leaving age, the grave shortage of staff in hospitals and earnings-related retirement benefits are discussed?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Again, the hon. Member may ask for only one, and I doubt whether he can ask for one on the Opposition's day.

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that it is for the Opposition to choose the subject for debate on Supply days. I cannot interfere.

Mr. Dickens

Since the salaries and services made available to hon. Members are now inferior in every respect to those made available by virtually every other assembly in the world, would my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on both matters?

Mr. Peart

I recognise the importance of this subject to the House. I agree with my hon. Friend. There will not be time next week for a debate, but I note what he says.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that there is a lot of business ahead of us.

Mrs. Ewing

Has the right hon. Gentleman found a solution to the problem which I raised with him in December, namely, the curious-seeming anomaly by which members of the Press have access to information, statements and Answers to Questions sometimes an hour or more before hon. Members? I say this wishing not to restrict members of the Press, but to improve the availability of information to Members in my position.

Mr. Peart

I should have thought that the present arrangements were convenient for the Press and hon. Members. The hon. Lady raised one matter recently and I took immediate action on it. If she has further points to raise, I will gladly talk to her about them.

Mr. Peyton

Could the right hon. Gentleman go a little further than he did in his reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? Surely the merits of the proposals of the right hon. Lady the First Secretary of State on industrial relations require that the Government should name an early date for their discussion.

Mr. Peart

I cannot add to what I said to the Leader of the Opposition.

Sir R. Cary

Will there be an early debate on the reorganisation of the ports, in spite of the fact that the Bill on them belongs to next Session?

Mr. Peart

A White Paper has been published by the Minister of Transport. Time should be afforded for a debate on this important matter, but I cannot be precise about a date for its discussion.

Colonel Lancaster

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the report that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to address a private meeting of the Labour Party this afternoon on matters affecting the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries?

Mr. Peart

I should have thought that a private meeting, whether of the 1922 Committee or of the Parliamentary Labour Party, was not a matter for me at Business question time.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when we shall have news of the introduction of the increases in Service pensions, mentioned by the Paymaster General this week?

Mr. Peart

I shall have discussions with the Minister about that matter. I cannot go into detail now.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Did the right hon. Gentleman entirely disregard the representations made from different quarters of the House that a one-day debate is entirely inadequate for the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, which is a grave constitutional Measure? Why are we to have only a one-day debate on Second Reading?

Mr. Peart

I did not disregard the representations. I represented the views of the House to colleagues; I always do. There is no question of being discourteous. A precedent for this is the Second Reading of the Parliament Bill, 1949, which was allotted one day. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we shall be taking the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Now that all our constituents have had the opportunity of experiencing British Standard Time, would the right hon. Gentleman consider providing time for a debate so that its working can be fully examined?

Mr. Peart

I have had representations made to me on this subject. I understand the feelings on it and its effect, particularly in Northern areas. But no time can be allotted for debating it at present.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) can only lead us to suppose that he is unable to deny that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to discuss a matter concerning a Select Committee with a separate party in the House?

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that concern is building up in the House at the Government's treatment of Select Committees? Not only are Departments getting slower and slower in commenting on Select Committee reports, but the right hon. Gentleman himself is becoming loath to give proper consideration to the reports, so that the Committees are unable to do the job which they were set up to do, namely, to keep a careful watch on the Executive.

Mr. Peart

That is not a matter for next week's business. As Leader of the House, I am anxious, as I have stressed, to make the Select Committees work effectively. What the hon. Gentleman has referred to is another matter. It would be wrong to go into detail now, but when the opportunity comes I hope to be able to deal with it.

Mr. Gurden

Is not the Leader of the House seized of the urgency of dealing with the matters mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in his speech on immigration? Cannot they be dealt with next week, particularly in view of the marriages of convenience which take place to avoid the law?

Mr. Peart

Those matters could have been dealt with on Thursday, which is a Supply day.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

As Post Offices in the Winchester area have been refusing parcels since Tuesday of this week, and as the Postmaster-General was unable to give legal chapter and verse for his statement today, will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the practice of government by Ministerial edict?

Mr. Peart

I will convey the hon. and gallant Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General.

Mr. Crouch

Will the Leader of the House bear in mind the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster)? There is considerable concern in the House about the fact that the Leader of the House is apparently allowing priority to be given to the discussion of Select Commitees in a private party meeting rather than in this Chamber. Would the right hon. Gentleman comment on this issue and give us time to debate it?

Mr. Peart

That is nothing to do with next week's business. I give an assurance that I do not reveal to a private meeting anything which I have not revealed previously to the House.

Mr. Heath

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that this is the only occasion on which the House has an opportunity to discuss continuing questions such as Select Committees? Are we to understand, as I think is the case, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to discuss this afternoon with hon. Members opposite alone the terms of reference of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries? If so, is not this a most undesirable development?

Is it not proper to discuss the terms of reference with the members of the Select Committee taken from all parties in the House? This is a constitutional question for which the Leader of the House is responsible. Will he therefore get the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he wishes to discuss the terms of reference for the Bank of England inquiry, to discuss them with the Select Committee as a whole?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said. In any case, what happens at a private meeting does not concern next week's business.

Mr. Jopling

May we expect a statement to be made next week on the results of the negotiations on the bacon sharing agreement? If so, would the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Minister makes the statement rather than adopts the recent practice of making important announcements in a way in which he cannot be questioned by the House?

Mr. Peart

As a former Minister of Agriculture, I accept that the bacon sharing agreement is important. I will convey the hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. C. Pannell

On a point of order. How does what is to happen at a party meeting this afternoon concern next week's business? In any case, anybody who has studied this subject knows that there are plenty of precedents, while hon. Members opposite were in office, of Ministers discussing in advance—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name one."] The leaks in The Times. The Leader of the House knows nothing about these things. This is a bit of constitutional humbug.

Mr. Speaker

In the second part of what he has said, the right hon. Gentleman expressed—[Interruption] The right hon. Gentleman has put a point of order to the Chair.

Mr. Pannell

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

The second part of what the right hon. Gentleman said was in answer to the arguments advanced by hon. Members on the Opposition benches. On the point of order itself, it has been in order during business questions to ask questions concerning the structure and working of the new Select Committees.

Mr. Alison

Does the Leader of the House appreciate that what goes on in private meetings in the Palace of Westminster is very often of great public interest? Would he not agree that to maintain the all-party character—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot discuss at Business Question time the general issue of what goes on in private meetings. What has been raised this afternoon is the interest of the Leader of the House in the structure, constitution and functions of Select Committees.

Mr. Alison

May I slightly alter my question and ask the Leader of the House to do something which I know he could do, and that is, to maintain the all-party character of the Select Committee, as I know that he is concerned to do, will he secure a dispensation for one or two moderate Members, such as myself and my hon. Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), to attend the private meeting?

Mr. Peart

If I may reply, perhaps I would be prepared, also, to consider an invitation to address the 1922 Committee.