HC Deb 23 July 1970 vol 804 cc774-84
Mr. Harold Wilson

In view of the Ruling you have given, Mr. Speaker, enabling us to confer titles on ourselves and on one another, may I ask the reverend Leader of the House to read the notices for the first week after the recess.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind proposal. I do not think it would be wholly appropriate, for a wide number of reasons which are well known in all parts of the House.

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

TUESDAY, 27TH OCTOBER—There will be a debate on Metrication, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Prayer relating to the National Health Service (University Hospital of Wales (Cardiff) Designation) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 28TH OCTOBER—Motions on the Parliamentary Constituencies Orders relating to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

THURSDAY, 29TH OCTOBER—Supply [3rd Allotted Day]:

Debate on a topic to be announced.

FRIDAY, 30TH OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill.

Mr. Wilson

The business sounds a bit thin. Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether on the day of the topic to be announced or shortly thereafter he will be in a position to bring forward the Coal Bill about which he has been asked? Will he be able to tell the House, preferably this side of the recess, whether it carries out all the safeguards which were contained in the Bill introduced by the previous Government?

Mr. Whitelaw

As to the thought that the business was thin, I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman regards as thin the fact that the present Government will do what his Government utterly refused to do; that is, to implement the impartial recommendations of the Boundary Commission Orders.

In regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Coal Bill, I made clear in a full answer last week exactly what we were to introduce. I then pointed out the exact position, and that remains applicable until the Bill is published, when, of course, he will see it.

Mr. Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman sounds more forthcoming than he was last week. He said that they are to publish the Bill. Does he mean the Bill which we introduced? If not, will he say whether he intends to maintain the safeguards for elderly miners?

Mr. Whitelaw

Whether I said "a Bill" last week or "the Bill" this week, the fact is that the Bill is the Bill which we are to introduce. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to await the Bill and see what it has in it. But I must point out that I made perfectly clear last week the general provisions that were to be in the Bill and I stand by this.

Mr. John Mendelson

Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity will seek to intervene in the debate on the Adjournment later this afternoon to give the House an account of the Government's attitude to the dock strike?

Mr. Whitelaw

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity will make a statement on the dock dispute shortly after business questions. He has told me that he will listen carefully to the debate on the Adjournment Motion. But I think that the hon. Gentleman should first await his statement.

Mr. Swain

Since a Press conference was given by the Minister of State at the Ministry of Technology yesterday to outline a possible shortage of smokeless fuel and the possibility of conversions, in which it was said that a letter had been sent to local authorities and users of smokeless fuels, is it possible for the Minister of State to make a statement to the House outlining what was contained in that letter? May we be told of any decisions which have been arrived at by the Minister of Technology about conversions of power stations, and may we be given an assurance that no decision will be announced during the Summer Recess?

Mr. Whitelaw

My hon. Friend the Minister of State set out the position in answer to a Written Question. I will ask him fully to inform the hon. Gentleman on any other matters not covered by that answer. I could not give, nor have any Government ever given, any commitment about such decisions.

Mr. Iremonger

When the Government make their decision on arms for South Africa, will the Leader of the House debate Motion 48 which is in my name?

[That this House, rejecting socialism as emphatically as did the majority of] the British people who so recently elected it, would regretfully support Her Majesty's Government if after consideration it decided to sell to the Union of South Africa warships, armament, aircraft and equipment to help the Royal Navy protect British merchantmen bringing vital supplies round the Cape from attack by socialist navies; is not convinced that the possibility of such attack is so remote as properly to be disregarded by Her Majesty's Government; notes that the avowed intention of the cruel and oppressive socialist powers, including the grotesquely misnamed People's Republic of China, is to destroy the free world and that such is not the avowed intention of the equally cruel and oppressive South African régime (though the latter is in a fair way to doing so unintentionally); recognises a parallel between the odious necessity of reaching a military accommodation with the socialist fatherland during the second German war and the necessity of a comparable accommodation with South Africa now; hopes that African nations nursed by Great Britain to independence will eventually develop into reliable allies in the cause of freedom and will produce régimes less cruel and oppressive than those of the socialist powers which seek to dominate them, but doubts whether sacrifice of Great Britain's security by Her Majesty's Government would hasten such a transformation; believes that any nation that might declare itself an enemy because we protect our lifelines even with South African help is not worth cultivating for a friend; has no intention of jeopardising national security at the behest of leftists obsessed with neurotic guilt about race; and has even less intention of being bludgeoned into any policies by a non-mandatory resolution of the United Nations which is notoriously and cynically exploited by the enemies of freedom throughout the world and the humbug and double standard of which have long sickened the British people.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not think that I can promise a debate on my hon. Friend's Motion, although I have carefully noted its terms.

Mr. Hattersley

Several times during the last five weeks we have been promised imminent statements on the future of certain regiments. Are those statements about to be made? If we are not to have a statement before the House rises, may we be assured categorically that the statement will be made in this House?

Mr. Whitelaw

No statement on this subject is being made before the House rises. As is the case with all Governments, I can give no commitment on what decisions may be taken thereafter.

Sir R. Cary

Could the House be told the likely day for the ballot for Private Members' Bills?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am afraid I could not indicate that at this moment, but I will investigate and let my hon. Friend know as soon as possible.

Mr. Alfred Morris

If it becomes necessary to recall the House earlier than expected, will the right hon. Gentleman, in order to avoid hardship to many hon. Gentlemen opposite, make sure that there is no clash with the opening of the grouse shooting season?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not think that there is much for me to say, except that the Regulations on the emergency come to an end on 15th August. If, alas, there has been no settlement by that date—and, naturally, we all hope very much that there will have been—the House will have to come back to renew the Emergency Regulations.

Mr. John Page

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides and the country are grateful for an opportunity of an early debate on metrication. Can my right hon. Friend say whether we shall have a Blue or White Paper on the subject before the time of the debate?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. I cannot enter into any commitment about a Green or White Paper, but I will draw my hon. Friend's view to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Healey

On the point about the future of certain regiments, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence said in this House on Monday that he hoped to make a statement this week? Can the right hon. Gentleman say what has gone wrong—or is it simply that the Government are trying to avoid the wrath of their members on the final decision?

Mr. Whitelaw

Nothing has gone wrong.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Will the right hon. Gentleman consult his right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and secure from him an assurance that no announcement about increased postal charges will be made while the House is in recess and that any decision to increase charges will not be taken until the proposal has been presented to the House on our return?

Mr. Whitelaw

I could not possibly give any such assurance, any more than any Government which the hon. Gentleman supported in the past gave.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to Early Day Motion No. 24 on concessionary fares for retired people, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Thomas Cox)?

[That this House calls upon the Government to urge yet again the Greater London Council, to enter into discussion with the London Boroughs as to the means by which a concessionary fares scheme for retired people can be introduced within the Greater London area because the continued failure so to do, is not only unjust to retired people in the Greater London area, but constitutes a discriminatory policy against them which should be terminated.]

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's well-known sympathy for aged people and in view of the fact that there is a need for a debate on the subject, will the right hon. Gentleman, since backbench hon. Members on both sides of the House are in favour of this principle, take the action suggested in the Motion so that we need not ask him for a debate in the first week when we return?

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly I have noted the Motion. However, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, responsibility for concessionary fares in London rests with the London boroughs and the City of London. Neither my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport nor the G.L.C. has power to intervene.

Mr. George Thomas

Will the Leader of the House give consideration to an early debate on Welsh affairs?

Mr. Whitelaw

Yes, certainly.

Mr. Mikardo

If it should come about, about, as I understand may be the case, that there is an announcement before the recess of the intention to close the Royal Mint, will the Leader of the House bear in mind that there are grave doubts on both sides of the House about the wisdom of this course? As the matter is not urgent, can he assure us that no irrevocable decision will be made until the House has had an opportunity of debating the matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

I thought that this decision had been made by the previous Government. However, I will look into what the hon. Gentleman has put forward. Obviously, I could not enter into any sort of definite commitment of the kind for which he asks.

Mr. Latham

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the Motion appearing in his name on the Order Paper today, which is closely related to Early Day Motion No. 8?

[That the matter of the rights of hon. Members of this House who have been committed to Her Majesty's Prisons, and of their constituents, be referred to a Select Committee to be appointed for this purpose, and that they do consider and report, in particular, what action should be taken if any person deliberately delays the receipt of mail by an hon. Member, interferes with a Member's right to correspond with any constituent, member of Her Majesty's Government, Department of State or another Member of this House, forcibly prevents a Member from attending this House, or prevents a Member who wishes to do so from interviewing a constituent or a fellow Member who is assisting him in the conduct of his constituency business.]

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there will be any consultation before this evening about the possibility of tabling Amendments, subject to what the Chair may rule at 10 o'clock? In addition, may I, without intending any slur, ask whether he could possibly ensure that the Home Secretary and other Ministers concerned with the Home Office and Ministers of other Departments who may be implicated in some of the events which have led to this situation should be present during the debate, together with the Government's Law Officers, who may be able to assist us?

Mr. Whitelaw

As for any possibility of amending my Motion, it is a matter for Mr. Speaker to decide whether he is prepared to take manuscript Amendments. Naturally, I could not comment on any Amendment until I saw what the hon. Gentleman had in mind.

As for the attendance of various other members of the Government, it was my hope that in this matter of a reference to the Committee of Privileges the House might be content with me. I think that I know as much about these problems now as anyone, and that I should be able to deal with the matter myself. I will do my best. What we shall be debating tonight is whether we should refer this matter to the Committee of Privileges. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Committee of Privileges is one of the most senior Committees of this House. I think that it is the right body to deal with all these detailed matters.

I have gone a long way in proposing this Motion before the recess, and I hope that in the circumstances the hon. Gentleman will think it fair that I should handle it myslf. The issue before us tonight is whether we should have this matter discussed in the Committee of Privileges, and nothing more.

Mr. Driberg

While I fully accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said about his readiness to meet us at least half-way on the matter, may I ask whether he appreciates that in what he has said there is some danger that the debate may be limited narrowly to the reference to the Committee of Privileges, and nothing else. It is a matter for the Chair, of course; but there is the likelihood that hon. Members will seek to raise the case of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) in the debate on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House for the Summer Recess, so as to be sure of being able to discuss it as widely as possible.

In addition, since there are a large number of matters to be raised in the debate on the Motion for the Adjournment for the Summer Recess, of which the most important, but not the only ones, are the dock strike and food prices, will the right hon. Gentleman, apart from dealing with the later debate himself, also do his best to ensure that various Ministers come here to deal with the subjects that hon. Members raise?

Mr. Whitelaw

What is in order both in the rebate on the Motion for the Adjournment and in the debate on the Privileges Motion, is, naturally, a matter for Mr. Speaker and not for me. Therefore, I must leave it there.

As for the attendance of various Ministers during both debates, certainly I will see what I can arrange. After all, I should find it very agreeable to have some companions. But if I do not have companions, I will ensure that I get full answers from the Departments concerned to any questions which hon. Members may raise. I do not suppose that I shall be able to satisfy all of them with my answers, but I will endeavour to get answers from the Departments concerned.

Mr. Molloy

Is the Leader of the House aware that when the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications made his announcement of a probable 50 per cent. increase in postal charges he also said that he would be consulting the Post Office Users' National Council? If there is any such decision and if the Minister decides to consult a body outside this House before announcing his decision, surely this House ought to have the right to discuss the matter.

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not think that I can add anything to what I said in answer to previous questions on the same subject.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

In view of the uncertainty over the last two years and more amongst Fleet Air Arm personnel about their future, will my right hon. Friend encourage his right hon. Friend to make an early public announcement about the future of the aircraft carriers—and a favourable one?

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly I will call the attention of my right hon. Friend to what my hon. and gallant Friend has said.

Mr. Rose

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's reply concerning tonight's debate, does not he underrate the importance of this debate from a constitutional point of view? Is he aware that there are very serious problems regarding the devolution of powers to another Parliament and extremely complex problems about the governorship of prisons either from this House or from Stormont, and that it is vital that a senior Law Officer should be present during the debate?

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly I will take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. Obviously, I cannot guarantee this, but I will see what I can do. I must point out that it is just because great constitutional problems are involved that I have sought to put before the House a Motion to refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges. I think that it is reasonable for me to say that these detailed and complex problems are probably better ventilated and seriously considered in the Committee of Privileges than on the Floor of the House, though I quite agree about the right of hon. Members to put forward their points of view in the forthcoming debate. The Government having taken the view that it is right to refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges, I am sure that the House will see the value of having detailed discussions in that Committee rather than on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Carter

I should like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Motion No. 14 which concerns the future of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation.

[That this House deplores the declared intention of restricting the present activities of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation; fears that this may be the prelude to its complete abolition; and urges Her Majesty's Government to make an early definitive decision on this matter to remove uncertainty in industry.]

Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Minister of Technology makes no statement on this subject until the House comes back in the autumn as the right hon. Gentleman has had ample opportunity in the past to come before the House and make a statement?

Mr. Whitelaw

If my right hon. Friend had had an announcement to make at this stage about a decision, he would no doubt have come before the House to make a statement. As I said in response to earlier questions, I will pass on to my right hon. Friend what the hon. Gentleman has said. I cannot give a commitment any more than any previous Governments have done so in the past.

Mr. Latham

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to pursue with the Chair the answer given to me earlier by the Leader of the House. Would it not be an infringement of the courtesies of the House to criticise a Minister in his absence? Would it not, therefore, be unfortunate if we were put in the position of having to blame the Leader of the House for the sins of his colleagues, particularly as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has conferred upon him the title "Reverend"?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that it would be reasonable to demand that all members of the Government should be present. Nor do I think that the corollary would be true, that if a Minister was not present an hon. Member could not attack him. Ministers can be criticised even if they are not here.