HC Deb 23 March 1970 vol 798 cc987-95

3.57 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask when we are to be able to debate the Motion for the Easter Recess?

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Lady will turn over the page of her Order Paper she will find that I am just about to put the Question.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House, at its rising on Thursday 26th March, do adjourn till Monday 6th April. —[Mr. Peart.]

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Before the debate begins, may I express the hope that hon. Members will be brief. I would remind them that we have a very long agenda on the Order Paper today and that some of us will have to see it all through.

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I wish to put to the House various reasons why it should not adjourn, or should come back earlier. There is one point in particular that I wish to raise.

Hon. Members will be aware that for some considerable time there has been concern about the state of the B.B.C. and I.T.A. Many of my colleagues and myself have suggested the setting up of a Royal Commission to discuss this matter, and I understand that some people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), have discussed this matter privately with the Prime Minister. I believe that in The Guardian today there is a report that the Prime Minister would be prepared to see a Select Committe of the House set up to discuss the issue.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, I reminded the House that we have some important debates ahead. We cannot discuss, on this Motion, what the hon. Gentleman would like us to debate if we were to give up the Easter holiday. He must ask for time.

Mr. English

I am asking for time to discuss the important subject of what, if anything, is wrong with the B.B.C. and I.T.V. and what, if anything, can be done to investigate the whole question of broadcasting. It would be unfortunate if a Select Committee were set up to discuss one aspect of broadcasting and not all of it. Indeed, it would be unfortunate if we had such a Select Committee rather than a Royal Commission or a combination of the two.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman will be able to go into the detail of the matter if he wins his point and such a debate takes place in Easter week.

Mr. English

We have had only one debate on the communications industry since before the Summer Recess. This important issue is being neglected. There have been reports in the Press that not only has an investigation been suggested, as my hon. Friends and I have recommended from time to time——

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Before my hon. Friend continues, would he make it clear that he would be prepared to return 24 hours earlier, so shortening the Recess, to discuss this subject?

Mr. English

Apart from Sunday, I would not object to returning 24 hours earlier. However, rather than shorten the Recess, I would prefer the Government to provide time to debate the subject. It is clear that there is a desire for such a debate——

Mr. Speaker

Order. If there is such a desire, the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to debate it on Easter Monday or any day following that during the Recess; that is, if he persuades the House of the rightness of his case.

Mr. English

I will be happy to return on any of those days, Mr. Speaker, to discuss this subject.

The proposed Easter Recess is slightly longer than a long weekend, but not as long as a lengthy Recess. There are many things that hon. Members can do during a long Recess, but with a holiday of this sort it seems that it need hardly exist.

One day should be used for the purpose I have described and, if only in view of the statement made today by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Posts and Telecommunications—there are many other subjects which come within his remit and which have not been debated for some time—the question I have raised should be before the House without delay; and if time cannot be provided by the Government, it should be provided out of the Easter Recess.

4.4 p.m.

Miss Bernadette Devlin (Mid-Ulster)

Having attempted to raise just now, under Standing Order No. 9, a matter of extreme importance to the people of Northern Ireland, I suggest that this House should not adjourn for Easter until the Government have made a statement on the inquiry into the death of Mr. Samuel Devenney.

I will not reiterate the points I made earlier. If the Government require time to consider the matter and cannot make a statement today, I trust that they will make one tomorrow. Failing that, one should be made before we adjourn for Easter. If that is not done, it may unfortunately become necessary for the House to be recalled during the Easter Recess; that is, if the troubles in Northern Ireland are allowed to continue.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

It would be wrong of the House to rise for Easter without considering the serious bus strike which is going on in Scotland. This strike has been continuing for a fortnight in large areas and for very much longer in selected areas. It is having a serious effect on people going to and from work and pupils going to and from school.

It is an important issue which the House should have time to discuss before we adjourn for Easter and I trust that the Minister of Transport, the Secretary of State for Scotland or another responsible Minister will make a statement on the subject without delay.

4.6 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

I have no wish to delay the House on this Motion, because I have a great interest in the subject which we are to debate next. However, I hope that the House will not adjourn for Easter until hon. Members have been given further information about the proposed merger talks between B.U.A. and Caledonian Airways.

Many of my hon. Friends and I listened with astonishment to the recent speech of the President of the Board of Trade in which there was what we regarded as a serious reversal of Government policy over civil aviation licensing. Having been told that my right hon. Friend proposes to give unlimited time for these proposed merger talks, we fear that the whole issue will be cut and dried by the end of the Easter Recess.

This has been a serious change of Government policy. We may be prevented from discussing the matter further is we adjourn as planned. While I appreciate that many of these negotiations are taking place in private and that it may not be possible for a statement to be issued before next Friday, I would be satisfied if further information on the subject were given to hon. Members, particularly about whether the President of the Board of Trade is prepared to set a time limit on these negotiations.

4.8 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Until the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made a further statement on the Government's agricultural policy, the House should not adjourn for Easter.

Within 24 hours of the Minister announcing the Price Review, of only plus £8.4 million, a fresh development took place in that the National Economic Development Council issued a report stating that the Government's selective expansion programme, to which the Government are publicly committed, has not got off the ground because of the shortage——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's remarks would have been in order had he asked a question of the Minister when he made his statement. They will, of course, be in order if he can persuade the House to return on Good Friday or on any of the days planned for the Easter Recess. At this stage, however, he may only ask for time to debate these issues.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

The House could return earlier because the Government have not made an announcement about any time being provided for the Price Review to be debated. This matter is becoming increasingly pressing, not only because of the reaction to the Price Review of the agricultural community but because the Government's entire agricultural policy lies in ruins, as has been stated by its own body, the N.E.D.C.

There are two particular reasons why the N.E.D.C.'s report, published within 24 hours of the Minister's statement, should be considered. The first is that it highlights the lack of confidence by the agricultural community in the future of the industry; and the second——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Highlights will have to be mentioned if, or when, the debate for which the hon. Gentleman is asking takes place.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

There is the obvious necessity to hold a debate earlier than would otherwise have occurred and the only time that one can see for this purpose is by the House coming back from the Recess earlier than is proposed by the Government. It is clear that the selective expansion programme has failed because of lack of confidence in the future and lack of cash.

The situation can only be restored by further Government action and, as the Minister of Agriculture has given no indication of having such action in mind, it is necessary for the House to have the opportunity to debate the situation.

4.10 p.m.

The Minister without Portfolio and Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Shore)

By leave of the House, I will reply briefly to points raised by hon. Members, but before doing so perhaps I may explain to the House that the proposed Recess is not as long as the Easter Recess was at one time. We suggest that the House should not sit on 10 days. There have been 23 Easter Recesses since the end of the war and only three of these lasted for 10 days, the other 20 lasting for 11 days. Thus, we are not seeking as long a Recess as has been customary in the past. On the contrary, it is rather shorter. The Government have a very full programme ahead and are as anxious as hon. Members to make progress with it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) raised the question of the B.B.C., the I.T.A. and related matters. I accept the widespread interest in these affairs, but I think that there is no reason for my hon. Friend to feel that they constitute so urgent a matter that we should curtail the Recess so that it can be properly discussed. Indeed, I understand that one of the Adjournment Motions which you, Mr. Speaker, have selected for Thursday may touch on broadcasting.

I have great sympathy, as I am sure the whole House has, with the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid. Ulster (Miss Devlin), but I am advised that there is no Ministerial responsibility here for that case and the problem she has put. I will, of course, consider the matter further. I am making a fairly immediate response to what she has said.

My hon. Friend also suggested that this affair might trigger off other, larger and even less welcome events in Northern Ireland. I sincerely hope that her view turns out to be pessimistic. I remind her that, should things take the course which we frankly do not expect, there are established procedures for an early recall of the House.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Will my right hon. Friend undertake to ask the Home Secretary whether he will not make a statement tomorrow on the situation generally in Ulster as well as referring to the case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin), to emphasise once again that the final responsibility does rest with this House?

Mr. Shore

I certainly undertake to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the points which have been raised.

Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)

While conceding that there may not be Ministerial responsibility here in this case, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend does not agree, as Deputy Leader of the House, that there is a parliamentary responsibility for the welfare of citizens in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Shore

We certainly accept that we have here an ultimate and general responsibility for the affairs of the whole of the United Kingdom, but I have to consider how particular cases relate to that general responsibility. I would obviously seek to have more refined and careful information of this case before giving a judgment on the points raised.

Miss Devlin

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, although, since I came to the House, my viewpoint has been pessimistic, it has never been proved wrong? With regard to the recall of the House, I remind him that in earlier circumstances, we still managed to get the British Army into Northern Ireland without the recall of the House. Will he reconsider the position?

Mr. Shore

My hon. Friend has indeed often been right, but I think she will agree that occasionally she may also, like others, be wrong. However, I promise her that I shall consider the points which have been put.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

Anyone who has been in Northern Ireland, either as part of a delegation or as an individual, and who has talked to the Commander-in-Chief and knows about the Security Committee meetings in which he plays a prominent part, would agree that there is now a new situation since the Commander-in-Chief has taken command of the police. Surely the House has a duty to consider the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). The Home Secretary should, therefore, be asked urgently to make a statement before the Recess.

Mr. Shore

I have already assured the House that I will draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the points made. Clearly, I cannot go beyond that at present.

The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) was concerned about the bus strike in Scotland. As he knows, talks have been taking place between the representatives of the Scottish bus group involved and representatives of the Transport and General Workers' Union on issues appropriate for negotiation. They are to continue at a meeting tomorrow. As such talks are in progress between the parties concerned, it is clearly important that nothing should be done or said to prejudice their success. I hope for a fruitful outcome to those talks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) referred to the speech of my hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade last week on the proposed B.U.A. merger, but clearly, as it is so short a time since a major debate in the House, there is little that I could add now. I am certain that the points my hon. Friend has made and his feelings about the desirability of reaching an early conclusion to these talks will be understood by my right hon. Friend, who will keep these points very much in mind.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that I would rather that these talks were not brought to a conclusion, because I would not like to see them succeed? Will he also make representations to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade that it would be much appreciated if we could have a statement before the Recess because many hon. Members feel that far too much of this matter has gone on behind the back of the House in the past?

Mr. Shore

My hon. Friend is now making a slightly different point. When he first referred to the matter, it was to make the critical point that this was an open-ended discussion, or so he feared, between the two air companies concerned and he suggested that he was anxious to see it speeded up. I will obviously have to consider both the points he has raised and see how they can best be met.

The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) asked whether there could be a further statement on agricultural policy in the light of the recent N.E.D.C. report on the selective expansion programme. I will draw this to the attention of my right hon Friend the Minister of Agriculture. We can look forward later to opportunities for further discussion of the agricultural Price Review, so I should have thought that this was not a reason why we should object to the Motion for the Easter Adjournment.

I have tried to reply to all the points raised by hon. Members; there were quite a number of them which came in rather staccato bursts, like machine-gun fire. It remains for me only to wish hon. Members a well-deserved and enjoyable Easter break, and to commend the Motion to the House.

Mr. English

Before my right hon. Friend sits down, will he answer the general point about the short length of the Recess? Would not it be better not to have a Recess except for the holiday days and put the week somewhere else? This Recess is of a most unusual length which is of no particular use.

Mr. Shore

My hon. Friend is under a misapprehension. Under this Government, there have been five or six Easter Recesses, at least two of which have been for precisely 10 days, which is the period we are now recommending.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising on Thursday 26th March, do adjourn till Monday 6th April.