HC Deb 20 November 1969 vol 791 cc1512-22
Mr. Heath

Would the Leader of the House please 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 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Bill and of the Industrial Development (Ships) Bill.

TUESDAY, 25TH NOVEMBER Remaining stages of the Police Bill and the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 26TH NOVEMBER—Remaining stages of the Customs (Import Deposits) Bill and the Rent (Control of Increases) Bill.

THURSDAY, 27TH NOVEMBER—Supply [2nd Allotted Day]: Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on the £50 Travel Allowance, which will arise on an Opposition Motion, and afterwards on Rural Bus Services, also on an Opposition Motion.

FRIDAY, 28TH NOVEMBER—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 1ST DECEMBER—Private Members' Motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, Motions on the Milk Marketing Amendment 1933 Scheme, the West Riding County Council Order, the Cumberland County Council Order, the Defence Powers (Continuance) Order and the British Overseas Airways Corporation (Borrowing Powers) Order.

Mr. Heath

Can the right hon. Gentleman now say when the promised debate on the Government's White Paper on pensions is to take place?

Mr. Peart

No, Sir, I cannot say. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am hopeful that there will be a White Paper. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I will look into the matter.

Mr. Heath

Another White Paper?

Mr. Peart

I was answering the right hon. Gentleman's question and was thinking of a separate matter, the social services, and so on. I will look into it. I cannot make a further statement on the subject today.

Mr. Heath

Do I understand that we are to have yet another White Paper on the Government's pension plans?

Mr. Peart

I understand that there have been discussions about the possibility of this. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am trying to be helpful. I will look into the matter carefully. In any event, there is always an opportunity of using a Supply day.

Mr. Heath

I must again question the right hon. Gentleman in view of the alarming prospect which he has held out. The first White Paper was barely comprehensible. The second was incomprehensible. What will the third one be like?

Mr. Peart

I am anxious that information should be given to hon. Members. I will have discussions about the matter. [Interruption.]

Mr. Heath

The whole House is bewildered by the right hon. Gentleman's statement. We are prepared to accept that there may be a third White Paper. Could we at least debate the second White Paper before getting the third?

Mr. Peart

I was thinking about the Bill and was trying to be helpful. This is an important matter, but I cannot promise a specific debate at this stage.

Mrs. Renee Short

For three weeks in succession I have raised with my right hon. Friend the need for a debate at the earliest possible opportunity on the proposals to reorganise the broadcasting services, but he has not yet made a firm announcement. Instead of taking some of the odds and ends which he has announced for debate next week, would he consider substituting an urgently needed debate on this subject? Is he aware of the concern that is now spreading through the B.B.C. staff, particularly in the regions, and the urgent need for this House to have a say about what is to happen to the broadcasting services in the future?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the importance of this matter. I replied last week and the week before to questions about it from my hon. Friend. I have conveyed her views to my right hon. Friend and it may be that we will have a statement shortly. However, I cannot promise anything for next week.

Lord Balniel

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that a fortnight ago my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, and the Prime Minister agreed, that a debate on the second White Paper on pensions would be desirable in view of the widespread concern that is felt about the Government's proposals? Is it not desirable that: we debate the matter at an early date?

Mr. Peart

I said that I would look into the matter sympathetically. I repeat that I am trying to be helpful. I realise the importance of the subject—[Interruption.]—which, for some strange reason, hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to reject. I assure the noble Lord that I will convey all these views to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Winnick

In view of the serious allegations of mass murder in Vietnamese villages, would my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to having a debate on the Vietnam war, particularly in view of these allegations of mass murder? Is he aware that a Motion on the subject is now being tabled?

Mr. Peart

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answered a number of questions on this specific matter earlier. I was pressed the other week by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) to have a general debate on Vietnam. I said that I would make representations to my right hon. Friend, and that has been done. However, on the specific point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick), I suggest that the Prime Minister gave satisfactory answers at Question Time.

Mr. Jennings

Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to squeeze time out of next week's business as a matter of urgency for at least a half-day's debate on the present position of teachers and their salary claim?

Mr. Peart

I appreciate that this is an important matter. Indeed, the teachers are at present involved in a dispute. However, I cannot find time for a debate next week.

Mr. Maclennan

Would my right hon. Friend consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland about the possibility of initiating a debate in the Scottish Grand Committee on the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland?

Mr. Peart

I will convey that suggestion to my right hon. Friend.

Dame Irene Ward

Has the leader of the House seem the Motion standing in my name asking for a statement to be made about the strike of maintenance men on the Underground?

[That, in the opinion of this House, a statement should be made on the continued strike by the Underground maintenance men which is causing inconvenience to the travelling public owing to the withdrawal of trains owing to lack of essential maintenance and the stoppage of escalators through lack of repair and on why this strike has caused less attention from the authorities than the unofficial strikes of the guards now settled to their advantage.]

Since quite a lot of information has been given about the guards' dispute, which seems to have been satisfactorily settled, is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the need for a statement to be made about this strike? Is he aware of the difficulties that face people travelling on the Underground when some escalators are out of action? Is he aware that some trains must be taken out of service because there is nobody to fit the necessary spare parts? Can the House be told what is happening in this dispute?

Mr. Peart

I have seen the hon. Lady's Motion. My right hon. Friend has been in touch with the bodies concerned and has been trying to reach a solution. I do not think that it would be helpful for us to debate the matter at this stage.

Mr. Michael Foot

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that on Tuesday it may not be possible to conclude the business on the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill at a mutually agreeable time for us all'? Will he take into account that we may need further time to complete proper discussion of that Bill?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of that possibility, and I will note what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Crouch

Is the Leader of the House aware of the growing concern in the country and the House at the Government's lack of a proper policy on the Nigerian war? Will he give us an opportunity to debate the question next week?

Mr. Peart

I appreciate that this is a vital matter, and that hon. Members feel very passionately about it. The Government have stated their position time and again in debate and in reply to Questions, but I will keep my right hon. Friend advised of the feeling of the House on the matter.

Mr. Faulds

May I emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short) about the need for a debate on the B.B.C.s plans to reorganise both its regions and its services, in view of the increasing concern of the staff, who have not been consulted, and the need for a public inquiry into the responsibility of the B.B.C. in the 'seventies?

Mr. Pearl

I have replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short) on that subject.

Mr. Mawby

Can we look forward next week to either the Prime Minister or the First Secretary giving a progress report on the solemn and binding undertaking given by the T.U.C. in June this year on unconstitutional strikes?

Mr. Peart

It is an important matter. I cannot promise, but I note the hon. Member's view.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for Motion No. 17, for two reasons: it is topical in relation to the inter-denominational schools in Northern Ireland; and it shows a remarkable change of policy on the part of some Tories—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot now debate the subject for which he seeks to ask time to debate.

Mr. Hughes

—and my amendments to it rationalise it.

[That this House, recognising the special problems created by a divided community in Northern Ireland, and without prejudice to the rights of parents to decide their children's place of education and form of religious instruction, urges education authorities, voluntary agencies, and the churches, in Northern Ireland to give immediate consideration to the creation of truly inter-denominational secondary schools and teacher training colleges, which will be attended by pupils of all religious persuasions, as a first step towards a more united community.]

[As Amendments to Mr. Henry Clark's proposed Motion (Inter-Denominational Schools in Northern Ireland):

Line 1, after recognising', insert and deploring'.

Line 7, at end add ' and United Ireland '.]

Mr. Peart

I have carefully looked at my hon. and learned Friend's proposed Amendments in lines 1 and 7 of the Motion. This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Government. Her Majesty's Government always welcome any steps which will promote mutual respect and tolerance in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

In view of the facts about arms supply given by the Front Bench opposite and the failure, or success, of the Foreign Secretary in misleading the House, will the Leader of the House now urgently consider a debate on the Nigerian war before Christmas?

Mr. Peart

I think that to use the word "misleading" is unfair. The matter was dealt with. I have given a promise that it will be noted carefully.

Mr. James Johnson

We have waited a long time for the Merchant Shipping Bill. Can we be told when we can debate it—perhaps before Christmas?

Mr. Peart

We have only just started the new Session. I hope that my hon. Friend will be patient.

Mr. Worsley

Will the Leader of the House reconsider what he said about a debate on broadcasting, and give an assurance that no action will be taken until there has been a debate?

Mr. Peart

I said that I would look at this carefully. I cannot give a promise. It may be necessary also to have a statement before a debate.

Mr. Rose

Now that the latest decision under the Road Safety Act is an open incitement to drivers to take a drink of whisky when stopped by policemen, will my right hon. Friend now consult the Cabinet and, even if it means sacrificing some parliamentary time, initiate a short amending Bill to save a potential 1,000 lives during the next year?

Mr. Peart

I know that this is an important matter and that obviously needs to be considered, but not next week.

Sir D. Renton

Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that no legislation based upon the Beeching Report on the size of quarter sessions will be introduced in either House until we have had an opportunity of debating the report itself?

Mr. Peart

I should like to look at this subject carefully before giving a complete assurance. But it is an important matter, I know.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Will not my right hon. Friend recognise that there have been far too many statements on broadcasting without debate, and will he now arrange a debate before any further statements are made?

Mr. Peart

I can only repeat what I have already said.

Mr. Awdry

There are rumours in the Press today that hon. Members may get an allowance to pay their secretaries a little more. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to make a statement?

Mr. Peart

I am to make a statement, but one must not always believe statements in the Press—

Hon. Members


Mr. Peart

I hope, probably next week.

Mr. John Mendelson

Does the Leader of the House recall that when pressed last week on the urgent need for a debate on Vietnam he said that he would consult his right hon. Friend, and look into it? Does he not accept that this matter has become more urgent because of the announced date of the Prime Minister's visit to Washington? As the House needs an opportunity to express its view on Vietnam, will make haste to make an announcement next week about a debate before Christmas?

Mr. Peart

I cannot be committed to making an announcement next week, but I recognise that the whole question of Vietnam is important; and the force of my hon. Friend's argument. I have made representations on this matter.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Has the Leader of the House gathered from the large number of questions addressed to him about broadcasting that to have the statement he has threatened next week without a debate will be quite unacceptable to the House?

Mr. Peart

I did not say that a state-would be made next week. I think that a statement may well have to be made by the Minister concerned, but I said that I would look into the matter carefully.

Mr. Barnes

As a misleading statement was given to the House earlier in the week about an American guarantee for Biafra, and as this is not the first instance of this kind, can we not have a debate next week so that the Government can make a clear statement on their policy with regard to the Nigerian war?

Mr. Peart

I cannot give an assurance about that. This matter has been debated, statements have been made, and Questions have been put to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I have made representations to my right hon. Friend. I must make representations, even though I may disagree with views expressed by colleagues in the House.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Select Committee on Science and Technology published its report on Defence Research Establishments six months ago? In view of the importance of the matter, ought we not to have a debate before the Defence Estimates debates season starts?

Mr. Peart

It is a very important report. It is very long, and the members of the Committee must have worked very hard on it. But I cannot promise a debate before Christmas.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

May I press my right hon. Friend that it is quite essential that the House should have a debate on Vietnam before the Prime Minister goes to Washington, which means that we must have it before Christmas?

Mr. Peart

I cannot add to what I have said. I have said that I will make representations.

Mr. Bryan

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm or deny a report that the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications will be making a statement on Monday?

Mr. Peart

I cannot give a specific answer. I said that I thought that there should be a statement on broadcasting matters, and I hope that the House will accept this.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The Leader of the House has said that he will make a statement next week on salaries for secretaries, or some secretarial assistance—a matter which, incidentally, is reported in the Press—but is he aware that hon. Members rather resent the fact about the way the Committee is selected, and put into operation? No one knows how it operates, and then my right hon. Friend comes along and says that he will make a statement. Is he aware that a lot more is needed than just this method of dealing with hon. Members' salaries and conditions?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend should not denigrate the Services Committee. The Committee's policy was approved by the House, and if my hon. Friend felt so strongly about it he should have had the courage to oppose it.

Mr. Palmer

My right hon. Friend has just said that he cannot promise a debate before Christmas on the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Defence Research Establishments. Can he promise a debate very soon after Christmas?

Mr. Peart

I cannot give a specific assurance. It was an important report, and I know that my hon. Friend, as Chairman of the Committee, feels strongly about it.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Is the Leader of the House aware that as a result of what has been shown on television in recent weeks about starving children in Biafra, it is now the clear duty of the House to debate the matter in order to see whether Britain can give a lead? The right hon. Gentleman must not under-estimate the feeling of people in the country as well as in the House.

Mr. Peart

I am not under-estimating the feeling on this matter at all, either inside or outside the House. I have given a promise.

Mr. Heath

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that so far in reply to hon. Members, according to my count, he has spoken of 11 important matters, on four of which he promised to be helpful, five he promised to watch carefully, and the remainder he was vaguely ambiguous about? Can he go away and arrange for the remaining four weeks before Christmas to be used to deal with important matters which the House wants to discuss and statements by Ministers which the House wants to hear, instead of putting forward some of the business in which the House has very little interest?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept that. I believe that the Police Bill and the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill, to be debated next week, are very important. If hon. Members opposite believe that the £50 allowance is a bad subject for their Supply day, why did they not choose a different one?

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware, in view of what the Leader of the Opposition is demanding, that the Merchant Shipping Bill relates to matters which have been discussed for the last 50 or 60 years and that the industry has been neglected by the Tories? Is it not about time that we dealt with this important matter?

Mr. Peart

I agree. That is why I resent the accusation made by the Leader of the Opposition. I think that next week's business is important. If the right hon. Gentleman had wished, we could have debated Biafra on the Supply day.

Mr. Heath

If the Leader of the House wished to give us Supply days until Christmas, he could provide for what the House wants.

Mr. Peart

Why did the right hon. Gentleman not choose that subject when he had the opportunity?

Mr. Rippon


Mr. Speaker

Order. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman wish to ask a business question'? It is rather late.

Mr. Rippon

Is the Leader of the House suggesting that the question of rural buses is not important?

Mr. Peart

No I did not suggest that, but your Leader suggested that it was not important.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Leader of the House must not bring me into it.