HC Deb 17 July 1969 vol 787 cc884-96
Mr. Heath

Will the Leader of the House kindly 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, 21ST JULY—Supply [28th Allotted Day]: Debate on Civil Science, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Prayers on the National Health Service (Charges for Appliances) Regulations.

Second Reading of the Trustee Savings Banks Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation Measure.

Motions on the White Fish (Inshore Vessels) and Herring Subsidies Scheme, the Housing Subsidies (Representative Rates of Interest) Orders, and on the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order.

TUESDAY, 22ND JULY—Supply [29th Allotted Day]:

Debate on the B.B.C.'s Plan "Broadcasting in the Seventies", which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

At ten o'clock, the Question will be put from the Chair on all outstanding Votes.

Motion on the B.B.C. Licence and Agreement.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Post Office Bill, and to the Education (Scotland) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Trustee Savings Banks Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY, 23RD JULY—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

THURSDAY, 24TH JULY—Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Consideration of any Lords Amendments received from another place which, if necessary, will be continued on Friday, 25th July and on Monday, 28th July.

In addition to the business announced for tomorrow, it is intended to move, if there is time, the Motion on the Carriage by Air Acts (Application of Provisions) (Amendment) Order.

As to the Summer Adjournment, I hope to make an announcement next week.

Mr. Heath

Will the Postmaster-General be making on Monday his promised statement on the B.B.C.'s plan, so that it may be considered before the House debates the matter on Tuesday?

Secondly, the Leader of the House will recall that last week he undertook to represent to the Minister of Agriculture that he should make the statement about the muddle which the Government have got themselves into over agricultural credit. Can he now tell the House when that statement will be made?

Mr. Peart

I made representations about both matters. Although the Oppo- sition have proposed a debate on the B.B.C.'s plan for Tuesday, and I am glad that they have, because it is an important subject, my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General feels that the statement should await that debate.

Mr. Heath

We gave a day for a debate on broadcasting because of the immense interest in all quarters of the House in the subject and because we felt that that would meet the requirements of the House. The House would be much better served if the Postmaster-General made his statement on Monday so that the whole House could consider it and the debate could be held on Tuesday in the light of the statement.

As for agricultural credit, is the right hon. Gentleman telling us that he is absolutely powerless in this matter and that his representations were ignored by the Minister of Agriculture?

Mr. Peart

The right hon. Gentleman should not assume that.

What the right hon. Gentleman said about a statement on Monday by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General was a fair point, but there are many matters for consideration and discussion between Ministers. I will again convey the right hon. Gentleman's view, but the debate will be on Tuesday. The debate is to be on "Broadcasting in the Seventies", and hon. Members would obviously expect the Postmaster-General to deploy his arguments in that debate.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that there is a mass of business ahead, as those who have been through Report stages of the Finance Bills know.

Mr. Shinwell

I gather that the Merchant Shipping Bill, which is to be introduced today, is not likely to be proceeded with next week or before the Summer Recess. As it is a formidable piece of legislation and likely to be very complicated, would it not be desirable for the Government to issue a White Paper, explaining the Bill's purpose, to precede the legislation and our debates on it?

Mr. Peart

The Bill is to be published tomorrow and no doubt my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will examine it carefully. It is an important Bill affecting an important industry. I have noted what my right hon. Friend has said and I will convey his views.

Dr. Winstanley

When will the House have an opportunity of discovering whether the Report of the Services Committee on facilities for Members justifies the very encouraging reference which the Prime Minister made to it last week? Will we get the report next week?

Mr. Peart

I hope that the Report will be out tomorrow, so the hon. Member should be enthusiastic about it.

Mr. Roebuck

Will my right hon. Friend rearrange the business for next week to permit a debate on the pending closure of the Sun and the state of the Press generally? Is he aware that the idiot laughter from some hon. Members opposite when this matter was raised yesterday was not representative of opinion in the House, or of opinion outside, and that there is considerable anxiety about this subject?

Is my right hon. Friend further aware that when, about a year ago—

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members may not on business questions debate the issue about which an hon. Member is asking a business question.

Mr. Roebuck

With respect, Mr. Speaker, I was not seeking to debate it, but to remind my right hon. Friend of a promise which his predecessor made when I sought a debate on the Press about a year ago. My right hon. Friend then said that if a newspaper were about to close, he would favourably consider a debate. Will my right hon. Friend consider this carefully and see what he can do for us?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend rightly highlights the importance of a matter which affects many working journalists and others, in the typographical trade, and the public. I accept all that, but my hon. Friend may well have an opportunity to raise the subject on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the mounting concern in all parts of the House about the failure to get relief supplies through to Biafra? Will the Foreign Secretary make another statement before the Recess?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the difficulties. We have had a debate on the subject and my right hon. Friend is obviously anxious to do all he can. If it is necessary, he will inform the House of developments.

Mr. John Mendelson

May I press my right hon. Friend further on this serious issue of the proposed disposal of one of the limited number of national morning newspapers published in London? When The Times was offered to Lord Thomson, there was no time for a debate, because the offer was announced on the last day before the Adjournment of the House for the Recess.

A definite promise was then given to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) that there would be a debate if there were any danger to any other newspaper. Will my hon. Friend honour this engagement and let us have a debate next week, when opinion may be brought to bear on this problem?

Mr. Peart

I cannot alter the business for next week in that sense.

Mr. Mendelson

Why not?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend is a skilled parliamentarian and he must await my reply. If he feels strongly about the matter, he will have an opportunity to try to raise it on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Costain

Is the Leader of the House aware of the concern in the South-East about the proposal for the Channel Tunnel? Could he persuade the Minister of Transport to make a statement on the subject before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Peart

I know that there are many different views about this proposal. I will make representations to my right hon. Friend, but I cannot promise that he will make a statement.

Mr. Dickens

In view of my right hon. Friend's encouraging news about the forthcoming report from the Services Committee, may we have an assurance that the House will have an opportunity to debate that report before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Peart

I cannot give a promise, but I will consider the matter.

Dame Joan Vickers

In view of the importance of the Duncan Report, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that no action will be taken by the Government on it until the report has been debated?

Mr. Peart

I cannot do that. Obviously, the Government have to hear views and a statement has been made. But, if it is necessary, the Government must take action. However, I will consider the hon. Lady's request.

Mr. English

If the Postmaster-General's statement is not to be made before next Tuesday, can my right hon. Friend assure us that it will be made before the Recess?

Mr. Peart

The debate is to be before the Recess—next week.

Mr. Marten

Has the Leader of the House seen the very gently-worded Motion about the inadvisability of going straight into the Common Market? In view of the anxiety throughout the nation about this question, could he possibly find time to discuss it before we rise for the Recess?

[That this House believes the Government should not at present pursue its application to join the Common Market.]

Mr. Peart

I read that Motion with care and interest. I will note what the hon. Gentleman said, but I do not think that there will be time for such a debate next week.

Mr. Murray

I appreciate my right hon. Friend's problem about fitting in a debate on the Press next week, but can he assure the House that if there is a debate on the subject on the Consolidated Fund Bill we shall have a statement of the Government's intentions from the Front Bench?

Mr. Peart

That is a matter for Mr. Speaker. However, if the subject were raised the Government would have to see that a spokesman made an announcement.

Mr. Evelyn King

Has the Leader of the House seen a Motion noting the resentment—I do not think that "resentment" is too strong a word—of local authorities at being asked by the Minister of Housing and Local Government to give their opinions about the Redcliffe- Maud Report before October? May we debate this example of Ministerial peremptoriness?

[That this House, noting that the Redcliffe-Maud Commission took a period of years to reach their conclusions, and knowing, as does the Minister, that many county councillors and their officials are on holiday in August and September, resents the peremptory request of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to the County Councils Association to provide their views on it by October and requests him to withdraw it.]

Mr. Peart

I have noted the Motion. I am dealing with the business for next week and it will not be debated next week.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Can my right hon. Friend say what provision he is making for a debate on numerous international issues of great importance with which the House has not dealt? If he is making no provision, will he agree that the powers and rights of Parliament in respect of the control and formulation of foreign policy are being seriously eroded?

Mr. Peart

I cannot agree to that. My right hon. Friend was a member of a Labour Government, and he supported the then Leader of the House. There is always difficulty in finding time for many of these great issues. If there were time, I would be delighted to arrange a foreign affairs debate, but there is not time next week.

Dame Irene Ward

Can the Leader of the House tell us how we are to dispose of the time on the Consolidated Fund Bill? Are we to be allowed to raise our various interests? I have very many interests that I would like to talk about, and I would like to know what is to be done with regard to the debates on those days.

Mr. Peart

I know, of course, that the hon. Lady has many interests. But she must not be too selfish. Other hon. Members also have interests. This is a matter for Mr. Speaker to decide.

Mr. Michael Foot

It is apparent from my right hon. Friend's announcement that some time next week we shall be debating the attempts of another place to hold up measures agreed to by this House for the improvement of the housing of the people, particularly leaseholders. In view of that, can we have a White Paper before the debate, disclosing what are the landlords' interests of Members in the other place?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend has made a very interesting suggestion. I will consider it sympathetically.

Mr. Lubbock

With regard to the Report of the Services Committee on which two hon. Members have put Questions to the Leader of the House, while appreciating that there may not be time for a full debate in view of the congestion in the parliamentary programme, will he undertake to see to it that a statement is made by the Treasury on its reactions to the recommendations before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Peart

If the hon. Gentleman reads the Report carefully, he will see that part of his question is answered. I cannot go beyond that. I hope that the Report will be out tomorrow. If it is delayed it will be for only a few days for printing reasons. But he should read it first.

Mr. Gardner

I know that my right hon. Friend always tries to help, but is he aware that it is just not good enough to debate the closure of another national newspaper merely on the Consolidated Fund Bill? This is a potential disaster for democracy. Will he not consult his colleagues to see whether we cannot find time next week for a proper debate?

Mr. Peart

I have announced the business, and it is a full week. My hon. Friend must know that I cannot arrange a day's debate on this next week. I merely suggest that there is an opportunity on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Buck

Will the Leader of the House say why time is not being provided by the Government for a debate on the Report of Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary? Is he aware that it is particularly important to debate it, in view of the fact that it reveals that, for the first time, indictable crimes in the provinces exceeded 1 million last year?

Mr. Peart

Anything to do with crime is important, but there cannot be a debate next week.

Mr. Moonman

Has my right hon. Friend seen the strongly-worded unambiguous Motion No. 181, which asks for Government commitment to and interest in the newspaper industry? Has my right hon. Friend not had representations from the Government during the last few days about preparing and making time for a statement next week? The Consolidated Fund Bill is one thing, but foresight is another.

[That this House, in view of the continuing reduction in the number of national newspapers in Great Britain, and in the light of the situation in the communication industry in general, urges Her Majesty's Government to give consideration to an immediate inquiry into the financial and commercial structure of the newspaper industry.]

Mr. Peart

That Motion was tabled a long time ago. But, for the reasons that I have given, the business for next week which I have announced must be as it is.

Sir A. V. Harvey

While we understand why the Leader of the House is unable to say when we will go into recess, can he at least say when we shall return to work in the autumn, so that hon. Members are able to make some plans ahead?

Mr. Peart

It depends when we get up.

Mr. Dalyell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are as anxious as many of our colleagues to leave Westminster and go into recess on 25th July, if he has timetable difficulties, there is no other option than to use Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week to discuss this crisis issue of the Sun, because by October it will be too late.

Mr. Peart

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of this matter, but pressing me to find time for a debate inevitably will take us beyond the date by which we had hoped to rise. However, I still think, if my hon. Friends so wish, that they could use their parliamentary opportunities next week.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to announce before the recess his decision to end the discrimination against patients in mental hospitals, who do not receive pocket money from his Department in the same way as patients in general hospitals do?

Mr. Peart

I would have thought that this was a matter which the hon. Gentleman would raise directly with my right hon. Friend. I will mention the matter to him.

Mr. Whitaker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when the first people are likely to land on the moon, this House may be discussing the white fish industry? Would it not be more appropriate to discuss the Sun?

Mr. Peart

I hope that my hon. Friend will have his priorities right. The white fish industry is a very important one for many of our colleagues and for the people, in addition to which in war and in times of crisis the industry supplies very gallant men to the Royal Navy.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

Since the Government apparently do not intend to make any formal observations upon the Reports of the Select Committee on Agricuture, will he provide time for a short debate on those Reports this Session?

Mr. Peart

Not next week.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

I realise that I may be fruitlessly knocking my head against a brick wall, but I have a number of hon. Members on this side of the House behind me. On more than one occasion, my right hon. Friend has promised to give sympathetic consideration to requests for a short debate on the closure of S. G. Brown, of Watford. May we have a slightly more encouraging reply than, "Not next week"?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend has had a debate on this matter and raising it now in the House does highlight it again.

Sir T. Beamish

Is there any intention to provide Government time for the Sunday Entertainments Bill? Is the Leader of the House aware that it is a controvercial Measure, to which there is a good deal of opposition, and that it affects the whole country? May we have the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that, if Government time is provided, it will be in normal and convenient hours?

Mr. Peart

The Bill was reported to the House only on Tuesday. Perhaps I might add that, in view of the late stage of the Session and the fact that the Bill has to pass all its stages in another place, I doubt whether it has any prospect of completing all its stages—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I am merely explaining the difficulties. I am willing to discuss them with the sponsors of the Bill.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Turning to a more musical subject, will my right hon. Friend find time for my Motion No. 395, the object of which is to frustrate the unethical attempts of the B.B.C. to stop the exposition and study of music in Scotland?

[That this House deplores the British Broadcasting Corporation's announcement that it can no longer remain financially responsible for the British Broadcasting Corporation Scottish Symphony Orchestra and hopes that the orchestra will not be disbanded notes that the Corporation are to consider a proposal from the Scottish Arts Council who are to be congratulated on their initiative in this matter; and calls urgently on both the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Government to give all necessary support and to take all necessary steps to save this distinguished orchestra and to maintain the study and exposition of its splendid work without which Scottish aesthetics and in particular music in Scotland would be significantly impoverished.]

Mr. Peart

I have noted the terms of my hon. and learned Friend's Motion. He will have an opportunity to raise the matter on Tuesday, if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the closure of any national newspaper is a great blow not only to hon. Members on this side of the House, but to everyone who believes in a free and diverse Press? Will he not reconsider his decision and let us have a debate on this vitally important topic?

Mr. Peart

I cannot add to what I have said. I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about it, but I cannot alter the business for next week.

Mr. Orme

May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that when he talks about the urgency of next week's business, he could consult with the Opposition about their Supply day for Monday? They want to discuss communications in relation to the B.B.C. on Tuesday. Could not they be asked to change their Supply day on civil science for a debate on the newspaper industry, and could not the Government make a contribution by dropping the Regulations concerned with teeth and spectacles?

Mr. Peart

If my hon. Friend thinks that his priorities are right, he has expressed them very well. However, it is a matter for the Opposition to choose. Civil science is an important subject.

Mr. Winnick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is still concern at the fact that no agreement has been reached to get food supplies into Biafra? If we are going into recess next week can my right hon. Friend make sure that the necessary statement is made by the Foreign Secretary on what is perhaps the most important issue at the moment—the prevention of mass starvation?

Mr. Peart

This is an important matter. My right hon. Friend is busily engaged on it and if necessary the House will be informed.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to an Oral Question put to the Prime Minister last Thursday when, at 3.30 p.m., he said that he had no statement to make about the Plowden Committee and yet, 20 hours later, a Written Answer was given? Would my right hon. Friend ask whether the Prime Minister will tell the House why he—inadvertently, of course—gave a false Answer to a Question?

Mr. Peart

I do not accept my hon. Friend's assumptions. Apart from that, the Prime Minister is a busy man. I do not think that he would make a statement on that matter.

Mr. Howie

Even if the Government cannot find time for a full-scale debate on the Press next week can they find time at least to say something about it?

Mr. Peart

That is another matter. I shall convey my hon. Friend's request to my right hon. Friend. There is no time next week—I think that my hon. Friend understands this—but if he wants a state- ment I will convey his request to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Richard

Again on the question of the Press, if there is to be a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on the future of the newspaper industry and the Sun can my right hon. Friend undertake that the reply made by the Front Bench spokesman for the Government will be a definitive statement of the Government's attitude towards the industry? Is he aware that many hon. Members on this side of the House and elsewhere are genuinely concerned about the matter?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend must await my representations. I am aware of the opinions on this matter. I am not unsympathetic but as Leader of the House I must think in terms of priorities in fixing business.