HC Deb 21 July 1970 vol 804 cc246-52
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I informed the House last Thursday that I thought it desirable in present circumstances that an announcement of the duration of the Summer Adjournment should be deferred for a few days. With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should now like to make this short business statement.

As the House knows, the Emergency Regulations which were approved yesterday have force for a maximum of one month. It may be necessary for the House to be recalled to consider further Regulations should the present emergency regrettably extend beyond that date or should other circumstances make recall essential. Subject to this contingency, I shall propose that, as previously announced, the House should adjourn on Friday until Tuesday, 27th October.

Mr. Speaker, may I also announce two additions to the business for Thursday of this week.

First, I understand that it would be acceptable to take the remaining stages of the Teaching Council (Scotland) Bill.

Secondly, following the exchanges yesterday, I am hoping to table a Motion today concerning a reference to the Privileges Committee of the question of the rights of any hon. Member who may be detained in one of Her Majesty's prisons. It is intended that this should be taken on Thursday evening—after the business already announced.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his speedy response to what he was asked yesterday about the Committee of Privileges and the problem of Members of Parliament in prison. If the House is to adjourn on Friday and we are to take an Adjournment Motion on Thursday for that purpose, clearly many of my hon. Friends will want to express their anxiety further about the dock strike and about the prospects of bringing it to a speedy end once the Court of Inquiry has reported. I understand the usual procedure in a debate of that kind is that it is always answered by the Leader of the House. While we are always glad to hear him, is he aware that many of us would like to have a statement from the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity before the House rises and before the debate to which I have referred so that hon. Members' anxieties can be allayed, if they are allayed, before the Court of Inquiry has reported?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Of course I will make representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I cannot say at this stage what he will feel able to do, but I certainly note what the right hon. Gentleman has said. As for replying to the debate, I understand that that is normally for me. I have no pride in these matters, and if anyone would like anyone else to do it I should naturally be very pleased.

Mr. Michael Foot

Can the Leader of the House say whether, in view of his statement, there is to be a debate on the Motion he is referring to the Committee of Privileges on the question of rights of Members of Parliament in prison? Can he say, in particular, whether, in view of the exchanges which took place yesterday and of the reference by the Home Secretary to the discussions that were to take place with the Ministers in Northern Ireland, there will be a statement from the Home Secretary before the debate upon the results of those conversations, since they affect the rights primarily of the hon. Member who is imprisoned in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Member has said. I think it only right for me to point out that in these matters we are of course considering two slightly different questions. The Motion which I am referring to the Committee of Privileges concerns the rights of any hon. Member who may now or in future find himself detained in one of Her Majesty's prisons. This Motion I shall be tabling to refer to the Committee of Privileges. That, of course, is a different matter from that which the hon. Member raised about the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). I note what the hon. Member has said, and I will call it to the attention of the Home Secretary, but I must emphasise once again that I can give no commitment as to what my right hon. Friend may be able to say on that matter. I must also emphasise that it is quite separate from the Motion I am referring to the Committee of Privileges.

Mr. Foot

I fully understand, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that the two matters are not intimately connected, but it is a fact that the House would not be debating this matter at all if it were not that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) is in prison. Therefore, in view of the fact that the Home Secretary yesterday emphasised the talks that were to take place with Ministers in Northern Ireland and that many of us are extremely discomfited that the rights of a Member of Parliament of this House should be dependent on conversations with a representative of the Government of Northern Ireland, will not the right hon. Gentleman impress on his right hon. Friend the urgency and importance of a statement being made in this House before we have the debate on this subject, which is bound to influence the debate itself?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Member has said. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will of course also have heard it, and I shall be prepared to discuss what the hon. Member said with my right hon. Friend. I do not wish to go further than that at this stage.

Sir R. Cary

If the emergency conditions are likely to continue, could my right hon. Friend indicate the date in August when the House is likely to be recalled?

Mr. Whitelaw

The Emergency Regulations, should the emergency continue, expire at midnight on Saturday, 15th August. They would, therefore, have to be relaid before that date and it would be a matter for negotiations through the usual channels as to exactly when the House should meet to take such Orders, but clearly it would be about that particular time.

Mr. John Mendelson

With reference to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition concerning a contribution to the debate by the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity and the demand raised by several hon. Members in the debate yesterday, could it not be so arranged that the Secretary of State should speak earlier in the debate on the Motion for the Adjournment and deal with the particular aspects concerning the Government's attitude to the possible attitude of the employers in still refusing to negotiate if the strike continues? That to many of my hon. Friends is the key point in the situation. Then at the end of the debate the Leader of the House could deal with the other matters concerned.

Mr. Whitelaw

I think I should say this to the hon. Member and to the House, and I think the House would feel that it is perfectly fair. I note the points which have been put forward and I respect the point of view put by the Leader of the Opposition that the House would like to have a statement from my right hon. Friend. We all know that in matters of delicacy in strikes of this nature the question remains as to what can be said, when it is advisable for it to be said, and when it should be said. I think the House appreciates this. Of course I shall speak to my right hon. Friend and consider the best method of meeting the requirements of the House, and indeed the nation as a whole, when we come to Thursday. I cannot go beyond that.

Mr. Barnett

In the debate yesterday the Minister of State seemed a little uncertain about price increases and the laying of Orders—whether it would be necessary to lay an Order before the House. The hon. Gentleman certainly did not make that clear in the debate. If it is necessary to lay an Order, how can this be done when the House is not sitting? Could the Leader of the House clarify what the Minister of State was not able to clarify yesterday?

Mr. Whitelaw

I suspected that I might be asked that question, and I have duly informed myself. Perhaps the House will appreciate it if I give the answer with the appropriate reference. I am advised that an Order on prices made under the Regulations would not require further parliamentary action but such an Order would, of course, lapse with the Regulations if they themselves lapsed.

Mr. Orme

Can I press the Leader of the House on the question of the strike? The House has approved emergency powers that are being implemented by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the House will be recalled if the Emergency Regulations have to be renewed. We are concerned about what the Government will do to bring about negotiations when the report of the Pearson Committee is laid. Many of us think that it is wrong that we should go away from the House without having had the report from that Committee. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that we ought to remain in session until that report is laid?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that what the House would wish is that these matters can be discussed in Thursday's debate. This is the right place to discuss them. I have given the fullest assurance to the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make any statement which he considers appropriate if he feels that a statement will help the House at that stage. This is a reasonable position for me to adopt. Let us discuss the matter during Thursday's debate.

Mr. Driberg

On the question of the Motion which is to be referred to the Committee of Privileges, will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to say that the Motion which he is tabling will be drafted sufficiently widely for us to discuss questions pertaining to the particular case as well as the general principle and that it will not be restrictive in any way?

Mr. Whitelaw

Yesterday I undertook to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that I would ensure that any Motion I tabled had been considered with him and, I would very much hope, agreed with him. That is still my intention, and I hope to do that today.

Mr. William Hamilton

When will the Leader of the House give notice of the rota of Ministers for questioning when we return in October? Will he consider putting on that rota the Lord Advocate—the Scottish Law Officer—who is now in the House and who does not appear on it, as distinct from the Attorney-General south of the Border? It is very important that we should have an answer to this question.

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciated that this Government has been able to provide a Lord Advocate in the House of Commons, unlike the Government which the hon. Gentleman supported. I will certainly consider what the hon. Gentleman has said in these new circumstances.

Mr. Hamilton

What about the other part of the question?

Mr. Whitelaw

I was so keen on the little point that I had to make that I forgot the other point. I think I am right in saying that now I have proposed the date for the recall we shall put down the roster as soon as possible.

Mr. Rose

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether Thursday's debate will allow hon. Members to discuss all matters pertaining to any part of the United Kingdom, notwithstanding that some of those matters have been delegated to Ministers in a subsidiary Parliament? This is an important matter of principle. In view of Mr. Speaker's Ruling last week, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it will be possible to discuss matters which have purportedly been delegated to the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that I am beginning to learn sufficient about my job to know that it is extremely dangerous for me to state what would be in or out of order in any debate. That must be a matter for Mr. Speaker. I hope to table the Motion about the reference to the Committee of Privileges by agreement through the usual channels and with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). What is in order during that debate must depend on Mr. Speaker and not on me.

Mr. Onslow

When does my right hon. Friend now think that it will be possible for the statement about the Land Commission, which was to have been made this afternoon, to be made?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that it is known, at any rate through the usual channels, that it was felt desirable that this statement, which was to have been made today, should not be made today—[Interruption.]—for no policy reasons. We shall make it as soon as possible, certainly this week.

Mr. Skinner

When are discussions to take place on the proposed Coal Bill? Several thousand redundant miners over 55 or 60 are very worried as to whether their payments will run out before the Coal Bill is introduced.

Mr. Whitelaw

If they had read the Answer I gave during Questions last week, they would be perfectly clear as to the position.