HC Deb 17 December 1970 vol 808 cc1565-77
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

The business for the first week after the Christmas Adjournment will be as follows:

TUESDAY, 12TH JANUARY—The House will meet at 2.30 p.m. and proceed to the election of a Speaker.

WEDNESDAY, 13TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill.

Motion on the Civil Defence (Posts and Telecommunications) Regulations.

THURSDAY, 14TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Courts Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY, 15TH JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Atomic Energy Authority Bill.

Second Reading of the Water Resources Bill [Lords].

MONDAY, 18TH JANUARY—Progress on the Committee stage of the Industrial Relations Bill.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

There are not many questions which arise from the business for the first week after the Recess, but nonetheless, as the Rudi Dutschke case is opening today, without wishing to comment on it in any way, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give an assurance that Mr. Dutschke will not be made to leave the country while the House is in recess—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am always concerned when Members come close to discussing sub judice matters.

Mr. Jenkins

—and that the House will not therefore be presented with an accomplished fact in this matter of considerable public concern?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asks.

Mr. Turton

Can my right hon. Friend say on what date there will be the debate on the negotiations for entry into the Common Market which was foreshadowed in the statement made yesterday by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot as yet tell my right hon. Friend the exact date, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster undertook that it would be held before 2nd February when the next stage of the negotiations takes place.

Mr. Orme

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some back bench Members have watched with fascination the debate going on outside the House about the proposed election of our new Speaker? Has his attention been drawn to the article in the New Statesman today by Mr. Alan Watkins in which he is directly quoted as saying to the Lobby last week that this matter had already been fixed, signed and sealed? Will he comment on it?

Mr. Whitelaw

It would be quite wrong for me to comment on any article of that sort. I hope that the House will feel that the election of the new Speaker is a most important matter for the House. The House as a whole will wish to conduct the election with the greatest possible decorum and good will. In anything that I have done I have sought to act in accordance with the precedents which have been followed by previous Governments. If I have made mistakes I am responsible for them to the House. But I have honestly done my best to do what I believed right in the interests of the whole House.

Mr. Model

Can my right hon. Friend say when we may expect to have a debate on the Roskill Inquiry into the third London airport?

Mr. Whitelaw

No, I cannot. I understand that the summary of the recommendations of the report is to be published tomorrow. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will answer a Written Question. I also understand that it will take six to eight weeks to print the full report. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has also arranged for a copy of the summary of recommendations to be sent to every hon. Member.

Mr. Loughlin

May I again draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the Motion on the Order Paper in my name and that of over 100 hon. Members dealing with the possibility of an increase for old-age pensioners and, in particular, a once-for-all payment for Christmas time?

[That this House, noting with great concern the ever-increasing cost of living and, in particular, the enormous and continuing increases in food prices, and alarmed at the effect of such increases on the aged and those living on fixed incomes, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to increase substantially retirement pensions forthwith and to offset any delay due to administrative problems by making an interim payment on a once-for-all basis before Christmas 1970.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is an affront to the dignity of the House that we deny a little succour to old-age pensioners at Christmas time and agree to an increase of £2,500 a year for High Court judges? Will the right hon. Gentleman do something about this matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

My problem in answering questions on business is that, quite correctly, it is not my job to go into the merits of any case put to me. All I can say is that I realise the importance of the basic question which the hon. Gentleman has raised. I do not agree with many of his other comments. I cannot promise to debate on the Motion in the immediate future.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Will my right hon. Friend give sympathetic consideration to a matter which was referred to yesterday, namely that in future statements on the negotiations for entry into the European Economic Community which contained complicated figures of statistical calculations should be made available half an hour or so in advance of their being made? Does my right hon. Friend agree that in this unusual situation in which the usual channels have converged into a single stream there is a strong case for wider dissemination of these documents to assist Parliament in its duty of interrogation and the Minister in his duty of exposition?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall look into what my right hon. and learned Friend has said. I should make it clear that both the previous Government and this Government have been most anxious to make statements to the House as often as was possible and sensible in all the circumstances. We continue to be most anxious to do that. We have also undertaken to give time for a debate.

I will consult my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to see what can be done to help right hon. and hon. Members in connection with making complicated statements available in advance.

Mr. Carter

As the Leader of the House has said that he wants to carry out adequate consultations in the matter of the election of a new Speaker, can he tell me when and where he wishes to consult me in order to hear my views?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am always subject to correction in what I have said, because I am never very sure myself what I have said. I did not actually hear myself say that I would be most anxious to consult everybody on this matter. I said that I had done my best—[Interruption.] I only think that I am entitled to say what I thought I said, and what I think I said was that I had been most anxious to serve the interests of the House in conducting this matter with the maximum possible care, because it is inevitably a delicate question.

Mr. Marten

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the debate on the Common Market will be a two-day debate? If it is not, it will be a very frustrating affair.

Mr. Whitelaw

I should confine myself to the promise that there will be a day's debate on the Common Market before the next step in the negotiations. I do not think that I should go further than that.

Mr. Faulds

When will the right hon. Gentleman afford us an opportunity to debate the museum and art gallery charges to be imposed? The subject has already been debated in another place.

Mr. Whitelaw

Perhaps I would be right to say at this stage—not next week.

Mr. Faulds

I did not ask for that.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Is my right hon. Friend in a position to provide time for a debate before Decimal Day on the problems which are emerging in connection with the introduction of decimal currency, so that the opportunity will be given of clearing up the many misrepresentations and omissions which have been perpetrated on the country, particularly by the Decimal Currency Board in relation to the 6d.?

Mr. Whitelaw

Again, my problem in answering this question is that I must not drift into policy. I cannot necessarily accept, however, what my hon. Friend said about the activities of the Board. I will consider his request, but at this stage without any commitment. I realise the importance of the subject.

Mr. William Hamilton

May I revert to the question of the election of a Speaker? The House is properly sensitive about this matter. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that names have already been bandied about. Can he tell us when the final nomination day is and to whom nominations should be sent, because we have several names in mind? Can he tell us what the procedure will be if three or more candidates are in the field?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman must be his own judge of what is the best way to conduct this procedure. I understand that it is perfectly possible for hon. Members to be nominated on the day of the election of the Speaker. On the question of the exact procedure to be followed, I would be right at this stage to confine myself, as Mr. Speaker himself normally does in such matters, to say that it would be wrong for me at this stage to answer a hypothetical question.

Dame Irene Ward

My right hon. Friend has stated that we shall have a debate, perhaps two days, on the Common Market. Will he try to persuade the House of Commons that in the debate some of those who have never had a chance of speaking on the Common Market should be called? I am rather tired of hearing the same speeches over and over and over again—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and as this is a very important matter hon. Members who happen to be ordinary back benchers rather than perhaps Privy Councillors, etc., etc., should have a chance for once to say what they think.

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that in the circumstances I might seem to be adrift this afternoon, but in view of the timing of the debate, I think that I would be right to say that the question of who is called in it must be a matter for Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Strauss

Can the right hon. Gentleman be more precise than he has been able to be in the past and tell us when he proposes to bring before the House the Government's proposals on the Report of the Committee of Privileges, which has been lying around waiting for action for three years?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says about this somewhat complicated matter. I am afraid that I cannot tell him today when I will be in a position to do what he asks, but I recognise the urgency of the matter.

Mr. Rankin

Three years.

Mr. Whitelaw

Before the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) proceeds further on that course from his seated position, he might recognise how most of those three years has been occupied. If he did, he might reflect that while I may not have been quick others have been less quick. I am anxious to bring this matter forward as soon as I can.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer

Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of the Secretary of State for the Social Services to Early Day Motion No. 53, upon which a statement was promised as long ago as last June? Will he provide the time for it?

[That this House calls upon the Secretary of State for Social Sevices to set up immediately an independent inquiry into the working of the Abortion Act which has been in operation for over two years and which has caused widespread public concern and considers that any such inquiry should assess the effects of the Act on the health of the nation as well as on its legal, social and moral life and should recommend any changes in the law which are in the public interest.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise the importance of the subject, but I cannot say exactly when a statement will be made or promise time for a debate at this moment.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

In view of the tremendous importance of the question of the Common Market, does the right hon. Gentleman really think that opinions can be properly ventilated in one day's debate? Will he give two or perhaps three days for this burning question?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate fully the very important issues involved, but the House appreciates that at this stage the negotiations are still going on. They were started by the last Government, as agreed to by the House of Commons, and the time when these issues can finally be decided can only be at the end of the negotiations. I believe that the House wishes the negotiations to proceed. I do not believe that it would be possible to have long debates during the progress of these negotiations.

Mr. Wilkinson

In view of my right hon. Friend's announcement that a state- ment is to be made tomorrow on the recommendations of the Roskill Commission, can he give an assurance that time for a debate will be found soon after we return after Christmas on whether a third London Airport is necessary before the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry makes a decision on those recommendations?

Mr. Whitelaw

It would be unwise for me at this stage to enter into a commitment when I have not the slightest idea what the Report will say. I take note of what my hon. Friend has said, and, without commitment, will consider it after the Recess.

Mr. Buchan

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the conduct of the Secretary of State for Scotland? Once again, on a very serious issue, the Secretary of State has not made a statement to this House. He has spoken once in the House since the General Election. Issue after issue and policy after policy have been annunciated in the Press instead of the House being informed in statements. This is now a positive political scandal and is rapidly becoming a national disgrace. Will he ask the Secretary of State for Scotland at least to make some statement about something at some time?

Mr. Whitelaw

Again, I would be very pleased to enter into an argument with the hon. Gentleman on the merits of what he has said, but that is not my job during business questions. But I will remind him that the procedure being followed under the present Government, as far as Scotland and the Secretary of State for Scotland are concerned, is a good deal more forthcoming than the procedure followed under the last Government.

Mr. Heffer

While recognising that the matter of the election of a Speaker is a very delicate matter indeed, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman for an assurance that back benchers will be properly consulted? It must be recognised that we are not mere cyphers and rubber stamps. [Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite think that back benchers on this side are rubber stamps, then they should learn that we are not. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the matter is not settled and that there will be further consultations before the issue is brought before the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that in all the things that have been said and in the various statements, correct or otherwise, attributed to me by various people, one thing has been perfectly clear, and on that one thing I will stand absolutely—that the decision as to who becomes Speaker is a matter for the House of Commons, that there can, of course, be an election, and that hon. Members are entitled to put up any candidate who can be proposed and seconded. All these things are quite open to back benchers to do, and they are in no way fettered in the matter. All I am saying, and I am entitled to continue to say, is, that while that is undoubtedly true, this House has a great tradition, going back over many years, of solving this very difficult and delicate problem on the whole with considerable satisfaction. It does not get engaged in unseemly and difficult problems.

Mr. Heffer


Mr. Whitelaw

Yes. I can think of circumstances in which it certainly could be.

Mr. Heffer

Elections are not unseemly.

Mr. Whitelaw

The procedure has been conducted by the House over many years. If any hon. Members on the back benches wish to change that situation, theirs is the choice, and they could not be stopped from doing so and no one in my position has any right, or desire, to stop them from doing so. I have acted in what I thought was the general practice which had been followed in the past and which I thought was in the best interests of the House.

Mr. Gurden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most hon. Members do not hold him responsible for precedents and that we appreciate the way in which in this matter he has gone through the usual channels? If there is any responsibility on the Opposition side of the House, it must be carried by the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. William Hamilton

That is a lot of rubbish.

Mr. Whitelaw

That is not a matter for me.

Mr. Skinner

I wish to revert to the subject of the election of Mr. Speaker. Let me say at the outset that I am still more than—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] May I say—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am still a little perplexed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] Is the Leader of the House aware that there are many hon. Members, presumably on both sides of the House, who are still a little disturbed about the so-called usual channels? I want to know when the nominations are to be opened, when they are to be closed and, in the event of there being more than two contestants, how the voting will take place.

Mr. Whitelaw

There is no date by which nominations are closed. On the day of the election of Mr. Speaker it is perfectly open and proper for any hon. Member who wishes to nominate another to rise in his place and do so, and, if he has a seconder, the nomination goes forward. I see no reason for suggesting any change in that practice. How the matter then proceeds must depend on exactly what happens, and at this stage that is hypothetical. In any event, it is bound to be a matter for the authorities of the House.

Mr. Bidwell

May I revert to the subject of the business of the House on 12th January, which, alas, is to replace you, Mr. Speaker? May I ask the Leader of the House to expedite that procedure without unseemly haste, because 12th January is also an important day for other reasons? It is the day when the trade unions will be engaging in a kind of pre-burial mourning of trade union rights. There are many hon. Members who will wish to take part in those democratic procedures.

Mr. Whitelaw

I seem to be in sufficient trouble about those matters for which I am responsible, that is, the business of the House on that day, without getting involved in matters which are outside the House and for which I have no responsibility.

Mr. Robert Taylor

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that Early Day Motion No. 99 has now received the backing of more than 50 hon. Members? As it calls for urgent action on the Industrial Training Act, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate after the Recess?

[That this House keenly supports the intention of the Engineering Industry Training Board to exempt from training levy all firms in the engineering industry with annual payrolls not exceeding £25,000 and requests the Secretary for Employment to urge other Industrial Training Boards to do likewise, as an interim measure, pending the result of the Government's inquiry into Industrial Training.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise the extreme importance of the matter to which my hon. Friend refers, but at this stage I could not promise time for a debate.

Dr. Miller

I revert to the uncanny silence of the Secretry of State for Scotland. Will the Leader of the House please convey to him that if he is suffering from laryngitis, there are doctors on this side of the House who would be willing to treat him, or to send him somewhere where he could have treatment? Would he convey to the Secretary of State the information that there are many of us who are deeply concerned about current issues in Scotland and that if the Secretary of State cannot make a statement, he should get someone in authority to do so?

Mr. Whitelaw

There are Questions to my right hon. Friend every three weeks when he answers all these issues. Exactly the same procedure is followed as was followed by the previous Government, except that we are a good deal more forthcoming.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Would my right hon. Friend ensure that there is reasonable time between the tabling of Government Amendments and the taking of the Report stages of Bills? I refer to the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill, which is due to be taken on Report the day after the House returns. Government Amendments have not yet been tabled to it and if in response to them hon. Members wish to table Amendments, those will of necessity be starred Amendments, which will not be called by the Chair. This puts the House in great difficulty.

Mr. Whitelaw

I will certainly look into that matter. I recognise its importance.

Mr. Kaufman

Has the right hon. Gentleman noted the decisive vote of the House on the Hare Coursing Bill? In view of his growing reputation as a defender of the rights of back benchers, his remarks on the election of the Speaker notwithstanding, will he give us some time after 10 o'clock one night to get a decision on Second Reading?

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly not next week.

Mr. Rankin

Would the right hon. Gentleman see to it that if back benchers have to be considered in the matter of the election of the new Speaker, all back benchers and not just some are considered?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is only fair for me to say at this stage that in the whole process of the election of the Speaker there are some problems of which the hon. Member has raised one.

Mr. Atkinson

Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the closure for nominations for Speaker is on 12th January? Does this mean that there will be no Motion on the Order Paper for that day concerning the election of the Speaker? Will all nominations be made verbally?

Mr. Whitelaw

There will be no Motion on the Order Paper to nominate a particular Member to be Speaker. There will be a Motion on the Order Paper concerning the retiring Speaker, of course. Although it would be better if I did not go into the matter too deeply on the Floor of the House, I should be pleased to tell any hon. Member exactly what the procedures are. However, it is clear that they are in accordance with precedent, and the precedents will be followed exactly on 12th January. There will be no Motion on the Order Paper to nominate any one Member to be Speaker.

Mr. Dalyell

In view of the ugly situation reported on the front pages of the Scottish Press this morning concerning drug taking in certain schools in Scotland, would the Lord President of the Council reflect on the Departmental advice on the subject and allow a discussion on this urgent and growing problem?

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise its importance. I cannot find time at this stage for such a debate, but I will note what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

My right hon. Friend will recall that in the last Parliament both usual channels were fairly well agreed that a considerable review of the procedure of the business committees was needed for those occasions when the House decided to refer matters to a business committee. This was a matter of particular concern to members of the Chairmen's Panel. Will my right hon. Friend give this matter urgent consideration after Christmas?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will certainly note what my hon. Friend has said and I will give urgent consideration to it after Christmas.