HC Deb 20 March 1969 vol 780 cc745-57
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 MARCH. Supply (15th Allotted Day):

Debate on foreign affairs, 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.

Motions on the New Towns (Scotland) Act, 1968, Order, on the Bacon Curing Industry Scheme and on the White Fish and Herring Subsidies Schemes.

TUESDAY, 25TH MARCH. Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 26TH MARCH. Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

Motions to extend Sections of the Post Office Act, 1961.

Motion on the Housing Corporation Advances (Increase of Limit) Order.

Consideration of any Lords Amendments which may be received to the Horserace Betting Levy Bill.

Motion on the Police Amalgamation (South Wales) Order.

THURSDAY, 27TH MARCH. Lords Amendments to the Representation of the People Bill.

Remaining stages of the Decimal Currency Bill.

FRIDAY, 28TH MARCH. Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 31ST MARCH. Committee stage of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill.

The House will wish to know that the present intention is that we should rise for the Easter Adjournment on Thursday, 3rd April, until Monday, 14th April.

Mr. Heath

May I ask three questions? First, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when the Minister of Housing and Local Government will make an early statement about amendments to the Land Commission Act which he has promised to make? In view of the high cost of the Ford dispute and the urgency of improving industrial relations, can the Leader of the House give an undertaking that the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity will introduce legislation this Session? Thirdly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the contrast between the promise by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to expand farm production which he made last November and the Price Review which he announced yesterday is so great that we must have an early debate on the future of the farming industry? Can he promise time for that?

Mr. Peart

I cannot specify the date when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will make an announcement. I will certainly consult my right hon. Friend and put to him the right hon. Gentleman's point of view.

On the point about the Ford dispute, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity said that she would consider this. I will again convey to her that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues regard this as an important matter. I cannot go beyond that.

On the question of the Price Review, when I introduced my first Price Review and the Opposition expressed their displeasure they chose the date themselves for the debate. It would be interesting if they were to do that.

Mr. Heath

In this case, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made a statement last November in which he promised a very large and immediate expansion in agricultural production. He is not now providing the wherewithal for this. It is therefore important that, because of this contrast, the Government should provide time for an early debate.

Mr. Peart

I should have thought that the procedure I have mentioned would have been satisfactory.

Mr. Grimond

When will the final composition of the Commission on the Constitution be announced?

Mr. Peart

I cannot say. I will certainly bring the right hon. Gentleman's question to the notice of my right hon. Friend when he returns from the conference he is attending.

Mr. Mapp

Has my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House seen Early Day Motion 228?

[That this House, noting the contributions made in the Second Reading Debate on Tuesday, 11th March, 1969, on the Children and Young Persons Bill, regrets the decision of the Committee of Selection to remove the names of the hon. Members for Oldham, East, and Wellingborough from Standing Committee G in respect of the Bill, as reported in the Votes and Proceedings of the House on Friday, 14th March, 1969.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that usually this Committee sits once a week, on a Wednesday. Last week we had on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday three different decisions on three succeeding days. What happened on the last occasion makes it clear and evident that this Committee has been influenced by Ministerial pressure. In these circumstances, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the working of the Committee?

Mr. Peart

I have noted my hon. Friend's Motion on the Committee of Selection. His is the second signature to the Motion. This is a matter for the Committee of Selection. I cannot find time next week.

Earl of Dalkeith

On the proposed business for Monday, 31st March, does this mean that it is the considered view of the Leader of the House and of the Cabinet that there is nothing more urgent facing us than the reform of the composition of the House of Lords?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman knows that this is a collective decision. This is the Government's view.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

In view of the mounting danger of war in the Middle East, will my right hon. Friend consider whether it would not be wise to have a debate on the Middle East rather than a general round the world review which never succeeds?

Mr. Peart

It is expected that the Front Bench spokesmen will concentrate on two matters—Europe and the Middle East.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

On the proposed business for Monday, 31st March, has the Leader of the House seen reports in the Press that two further days are to be given in that same week for discussion of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in Committee? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake not to do that and to give priority to the discussion of Motion 171—

[That this House applauds the declaration of President Nixon in his Inaugural Address that he seeks an open world, open to the exchange of goods; and urges Her Majesty's Government to examine the possibilities for the creation of a free trade association of countries based on the United Kingdom, Canada, the United Kingdom's partners in the European Free Trade Association, and the United States of America and open for all, including the European Economic Community, to join.]—

which is a far-seeing, imaginative and constructive Motion and which has great support on both sides of the House, asking for an exploration of the possibilities of an Atlantic Free Trade Area?

Mr. Peart

I am intrigued by the way the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pressed the case for his Motion. I know that it is an important matter. No doubt he will be able to raise it, if he so wishes, in the foreign affairs debate. I am not responsible for Press speculation.

Mr. Dobson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the debate on mortgage rates yesterday brought some criticism from back benchers because four Front Bench speakers—two on each side—were balanced by only four back bench speakers and some hon. Members who wished to take part in the debate could not be called because of shortage of time? Will my right hon. Friend consider this matter and provide some time next week, or at least before Easter, for a further debate on this very important subject, which has not yet been properly aired?

Mr. Peart

The question of the length of speeches comes up from time to time. I will look into this matter.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In view of the great relief to the Government's programme for the next year or so which would result from a collective decision on a free vote on Early Day Motion 232—

[That further consideration of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill be suspended, seeing that the question of the future composition and powers of the House of Lords is within the scope of the Royal Commission on the Constitution.]—

will the Leader of the House consult his own interests and find time for a debate on it next week?

Mr. Peart

I have noted with interest the Motion in the name of the right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. I know the right hon. Gentleman's views on this matter, but he knows full well what the Government's policy is on this.

Mr. Albu

Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on the procedure of Select Committees, especially their practice of sitting in public, in view of the selective and sensational reporting in the Press, which seriously distorts the evidence of witnesses?

Mr. Peart

I note what my hon. Friend has said. This is an important matter affecting procedure. I will examine my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Will the Leader of the House ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement next week on the problems affecting the management of B.O.A.C. and the pilots bearing in mind that if this matter is not resolved in a matter of days there could be another serious strike losing millions of £s of foreign currency to Britain and causing great inconvenience?

Mr. Peart

I will have a word with my right hon. Friend on this matter.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

On the proposed business for Monday week—something to do with the Lords Bill or something; I am not quite sure—has my right hon. Friend already taken action, or will he take action, to get the secret document in time for that debate? Will he tell us how we are going to get it? Does he intend to circulate it? Does he intend to put it through the Whips' Office?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend knows, if he has attended, that I made a statement yesterday, assuming that he heard it. The procedures are going forward.

Mr. Lewis

On a point of order. I asked about the secret document.

Mr. Peart

That was precisely what I was talking about.

Mr. Turton

Reverting to the question asked by the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), is it not so that a vote of censure on a Select Committee cannot be a matter for the Select Committee but must be a matter for the House, and merits a certain degree of urgency of consideration over other business?

Mr. Peart

The right hon. Gentleman has great experience in these matters. I will carefully examine what he has said and, if it is so, we shall have to deal with it.

Mr. C. Pannell

I know the anxieties of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on this issue: therefore, can he say that, if not next week, at any rate before Easter, we shall have some sort of debate on the acceptance of the Report of the Select Committee on the law of privilege, a matter which seems to grow in urgency with every case of privilege that we discuss?

Mr. Peart

I will do all I can to fix a debate on this matter as soon as possible. I know that it is not a matter in which my right hon. Friend alone is interested; it affects all hon. Members. I will try to arrange a debate.

Mr. Hogg

May I press the Leader of the House further on Motion No. 228 on the Committee of Selection? When, as the right hon. Gentleman has promised to do, he reviews what my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has said, will he take into account that we on this side are greatly concerned by what has happened? Will he remember that, if he wants to get his business on the subsequent stages of the Bill at all rapidly, he must satisfy us that he has not rigged his side of the Committee on the Children and Young Persons Bill?

Mr. Peart

I said that I would examine this. I gave that promise. I will treat it as an urgent matter.

Mr. Mendelson

May I press my right hon. Friend further on the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) on the subject of the foreign affairs debate? Will not my right hon. Friend reconsider this matter and, after consultation with the Opposition and other interested Members, table a Motion enabling a more precise debate to take place? Did not the Biafran debate show beyond doubt that when there is a definite subject the best possible debate follows and that general tours d'horizon are no use at all? Whether the subject under discussion be the Middle East or Europe, it should be a precise subject.

Mr. Peart

I have always said, in the House and elsewhere, that I have sym- pathy with my hon. Friend's view on this matter. I find that debates which are focused on one subject are usually more effective. However, we cannot follow his suggestion because of the pressure of time and the urgency of discussing the Middle East and Europe.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

May I support the appeal of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for a debate on agriculture before the House goes into Recess. It is absolutely vital that Members should have a chance to debate it before they meet their constituents and before the Budget debate starts when we return from the Recess. It is scandalous that the House cannot find time to debate the White Paper, and to do so by the end of the week after next.

Mr. Peart

The right hon. Gentleman heard my answer and what happened on a previous occasion. If right hon. Members feel strongly on this, they can follow that procedure and have a Supply Day.

Mr. Wyatt

Cannot my right hon. Friend give some indication of when legislation will be introduced on industrial relations? Is not it much more important to reform the trade unions than to reform the House of Lords, which is not doing any particular harm to anybody at present?

Mr. Peart

I cannot give any indication.

Mr. Richard Wainwright

In view of the current concern about Land Commission operations, has the right hon. Gentleman noted that Early Day Motion 211—

[That this House, noting the failure of the Land Commission to achieve its objectives, urges the Government to dismantle it with urgency, at the same time seeking a more radical approach to soaring land prices based on a need to curb speculators and safeguard potential home owners.]

—is a three-party Motion which seeks consideration of radical alternatives to the Land Commission? In view of that, will he arrange for it to be debated at an early date?

Mr. Peart

I have noted the terms of the Motion and will convey those views to the Minister responsible, but I cannot promise a debate.

Mr. Hector Hughes

In view of the very serious and unhappy situation in North East Scotland, where great unemployment has been created recently, will my right hon. Friend find time to debate my Earl Day Motion 233—

[That this House expresses its distress at the drift south from north-east Scotland of skilled craftsmen and other workers accentuated by the closure or threatened closure of Inverurie Locomotive Works, by the concentration of industry in Southern Scotland, and by the uneven spread of industry throughout the rest of Scotland; is of opinion that the future substitution of advance factories after the skilled craftsmen and other workers shall have gone south will be no solution to the relevant problems which by then will have broken up homes and inflicted loss and sorrow on the families concerned; and now urges the Government to use the advances of science, technology and communications to increase trade, industry, commerce and employment throughout north-east Scotland.]

Mr. Peart

My hon. and learned Friend has pressed me on this. He is aware of the Government's policy on help for the development area. I cannot find time.

Mr. Peyton

Having regard to the right hon. Gentleman's concern that the time of the House should not be wasted, and his understandable lack of interest in the debates on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, will he reconsider the Government's decision to squander the time of the House further in this disgraceful way?

Mr. Peart

I take a great interest in the speeches, even those of the hon. Member, on matters like this. He knows what the position is.

Mr. Ogden

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing anxiety about the Government's inability to introduce the promised legislation on merchant shipping? There is very little time left for this. Cannot we at least have a statement from my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade or my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the Government's intentions in the matter?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend has pressed me on this. I regard it as an important matter, and the Bill will be introduced as soon as it is ready.

Dame Irene Ward

Has the Leader of the House noted Early Day Motion 196—

[That this House notes with concern that the first sailing of the first British deep-sea containership, 'Encounter Bay', took place from Rotterdam, and that the container terminal built at Tilbury specifically for this service could not be used, despite the conclusion of a comprehensive agreement with the employees directly concerned, and considers that the permanent diversion of this valuable trade would seriously damage the British shipping industry, the export drive and the balance of payments.]

As it deals with Commonwealth trade, the balance of payments and the export trade, instead of saying that he cannot find time, could he give me an assurance that he will get in touch with the Prime Minister about it? The matter is very important to the prestige of the country. If the Prime Minister would interest himself in it we need not have quite so much to-ing and fro-ing. We could get on quicker if we could get at the Prime Minister.

Mr. Peart

I have noted the Motion and accept what the hon. Lady has said. It is an important matter, and I will make quite certain that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is aware of the feeling.

Mr. Russell Kerr

In view of the snowballing confusion that the Committee stage of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill has revealed, will my right hon. Friend take it back to his right hon. Friends and have another think about it? We do not like wasting the time of the House, but we would be betraying our trust as M.P.s if we did not put on this kind of pressure.

Mr. Peart

I know that my hon. Friend is strongly opposed to the Bill, and I respect his point of view. I can assure him that I was not responsible for the snowballing of confusion. I gave a promise to assist yesterday, and I have taken action. I hope that our next debate on the Question, That the Clause stand part, will be helpful.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

In view of the speech by the Minister of State, Welsh Office, at Taunton last Saturday on the subject of an international airport in the Severn Estuary, will there be time for a debate on the subject between now and Easter?

Mr. Peart

I could not promise that.

Mr. Roebuck

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the proposal to discuss the Parliament (No. 2) Bill further on Monday week is hanging by a silken, silken thread? Will he explain why the author of the Measure, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, has not yet changed his mind on it? Is not he going out of character?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are drifting into merits, I think.

Mr. Peart

There are many people in the House who change their minds, but my right hon. Friend has consistently supported the Bill.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Does the Leader of the House realise how important and urgent the merchant shipping Bill is? Can he still guarantee that it will go through this Session, and that it has not been held up because of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill?

Mr. Peart

I have already given a reply on that. It will be introduced as soon as possible.

Mr. Eadie

Has my right hon. Friend noticed Early Day Motion 194 on the newspaper industry—

[That this House, believing that it is necessary to have a strong local and national newspaper industry, urges Her Majesty's Government to consult newspaper proprietors and the appropriate trade unions to counteract the threat by a Conservative Party spokesman that a future Tory Government will spread 100 commercial radio stations throughout the country.]

—standing in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends? In the light of the exchanges between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition today, and because of the implication of a threat to the newspaper industry by the Opposition, will he consider having a debate?

Mr. Peart

I know that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in this, and the Motion is important, but I cannot find time for it.

Mr. John Hall

As we are not to have a debate next week on the Land Commission Act, and in view of the very grave anxieties expressed by the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) about the injustices and hardships caused by the operation of the Act, will the right hon. Gentleman see that Orders are brought forward under Section 63 of the Act which will enable the Commission to lift the liability for levy on many people?

Mr. Peart

I said in reply to a previous question that I would put this point to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must remind the right hon. Member for Derby, South that there is no second round of business questions.

Mr. Orme

May I return to the Parliament (No. 2) Bill and the proposed debate a week on Monday? There were reports in The Times this morning that we shall carry on the debate for two days, on the following Tuesday and Wednesday which will take us up to the Easter Recess. Does not my right hon. Friend feel in view of the number of urgent issues that need to be debated, that the Bill should be withdrawn? Where is the pressure for it coming from? Is it from himself, his right hon. Friends, or the Leader of the Opposition? Not one word do we hear from the Opposition on this matter.

Mr. Peart

I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about this. He knows that the Second Reading of the Bill was carried by a large majority, and he represents a small minority on this. I respect his views, but this is the Government's policy, and it is a Government decision.

Mr. Dance

In view of the unsatisfactory Price Review announced yesterday, may I press the Leader of the House once again on whether it is not essential to have an agriculture debate before Easter?

Mr. Peart

I have given my reply on that. The hon. Gentleman knows my position.

Mr. MacArthur

In view of the many questions asked and the shameful ignorance shown by the Prime Minister and other Ministers in their replies, can we expect a serious and informed statement next week about the loss of 35,000 jobs in Scotland over the past four years?

Mr. Peart

My right hon. Friend replied in great detail. I cannot provide time to debate the matter next week.

Mr. Shinwell

My right hon. Friend has just remarked that those who are opposed to the Parliament (No. 2) Bill are a small minority. Are small minorities in the House to be disregarded? Was not there a time when my right hon. Friend was one of a small minority and thought that it was right?

Mr. Peart

I agree—

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the right hon. Gentleman was, it is not a business question for next week.

Mr. Peart

I have noted the views expressed. It is my duty to try to protect minorities. I have stated the Government's view.

Mr. John Smith

We have the whole of the future in which to discuss the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. Does the Leader of the House think that it is more important than the merchant shipping Bill? If he does not get on with that Bill, it will not get through this Session.

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that I have made my position known. I would only be repeating it.

Sir Knox Cunningham

In order to save time next week and before the Easter Recess, will the right hon. Gentleman not seriously consider taking the Parliament (No. 2) Bill and cutting its throat?

Mr. Peart

I know that hon. Members feel strongly about this. They have lobbied me and have put pressure on me. I have stated the position.