HC Deb 26 November 1970 vol 807 cc617-31
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House if he will state the business for next week?

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

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 30TH NOVEMBER—Consideration of Private Members' Motions until 7 p.m.

Afterwards, debate on an Opposition censure Motion on the Government for the Handling of the Affairs of the Post Office Corporation.

TUESDAY, 1ST DECEMBER—Remaining stages of the Family Income Supplements Bill, of the Contingencies Fund Bill and the Town and Country Planning Regulations (London) (Indemnity) Bill.

Motions on the Anti-Dumping Duty (No. 4) Order and on the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Netherland Antilles) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 2ND DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Air Corporations Bill.

Remaining stages of the Teaching Council (Scotland) Bill.

It is hoped that this business will be disposed of at a reasonably early hour in order to allow an extended debate on the British Standard Time Order, which will follow.

THURSDAY, 3RD DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill.

Motion on the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Order.

FRIDAY, 4TH DECEMBER—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 7TH DECEMBER—Supply (7th Allotted Day): The topic for debate to be announced later.

As I intend to invite the House to agree that there should be a rather shorter Adjournment at Christmas than usual, it may be convenient if I say now that I shall propose that the House should rise on Friday, 18th December and return on Tuesday, 12th January, 1971.

Mr. Harold Wilson

First, is the Leader of the House aware that we on this side will suggest that hon. Members should have a free vote on Wednesday on the British Standard Time Order?

Second, when does the right hon. Gentleman hope to be able to find time for a debate on foreign affairs, including giving the House an opportunity to express its concern about recent developments in Vietnam?

Third, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is almost the first time since July that I have not asked him when we shall get the Coal Industry Bill. Now that we have it and have studied it, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to take it back, look at it again, reconsider it, and apart from those measures that were in our Bill about elderly miners and help for the industry, wring its dirty neck and produce a better Bill in its place?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have the authority of my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip to say that we on this side of the House will have a free vote, which will include members of the Government, on the British Standard Time Order on Wednesday.

I note what the right hon Gentleman says about a debate on foreign affairs and I am very willing to have a discussion about the timing of such a debate through the usual channels.

On the third point, I made it perfectly clear in July, and I gave an undertaking then, that the measures relating to redundant miners would be in the Coal Industry Bill. My undertaking has been fully kept. As for the rest of the Bill, the Bill has been introduced. It will now go forward as it stands.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Business Question Time is growing in length. Fifty right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak in the debate ahead. I hope that we can move fast.

Mr. Brain

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to Motion No. 159?

[That this House views with disgust the behaviour of some students at Essex University who, having caused a fire on university premises which was potentially dangerous to life and property, obstructed and assaulted firemen who were carrying out their duty, and deplores the failure of the university authorities to maintain order and to instil in their students an elementary sense of responsibility to others.]

It concerns the criminal obstruction and assault on firemen in the course of their duty by students at Essex University. In view of the anxieties expressed in the House on Tuesday by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) and myself about our constituents and fire risks on Thames-side and the burden these place on the Essex fire brigade, will my right hon. Friend ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to make a statement next week about the implications of this new kind of disorder?

Mr. Whitelaw

I fully recognise the importance of the matters raised by my hon. Friend's Motion. I think he would agree that in the main many of the matters concerned are primarily the concern of Essex University. However, I will certainly call the attention of my right hon. Friend's concerned to what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Thorpe

Last Monday, at col. 56 of HANSARD, the House was assured on three occasions by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that the £18 million advanced to Rolls-Royce came exclusively from private sources. Since we know that the rôle of the Bank of England has been not only to provide money but to offer guarantees to those private sources which put up money, may we take it that we shall have a statement next week and an explanation as to why the House was misled?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not accept that the House was misled. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has a Question down to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on Monday. No doubt he will get his answer then.

Mr. Tugendhat

Could time be found next week to enable the Leader of the Opposition to do something that I am sure he would wish on reflection to do, namely, to withdraw his rude, discourteous and quite unjustified slur on the Lord Mayor of the City which I have the honour to represent?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are drifting, I think, into merits or demerits.

Mr. Whitelaw

I could not give time for that debate next week, but if the Leader of the Opposition heard what my right hon. Friend said, which I do not think he did, because he was talking at the time, no doubt he will take note of it

Mr. Harold Wilson

My sneer, snide remark, or whatever it was, about smug complacency was directed at a speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in the Guildhall.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about his remark and how he wishes it to be taken.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The House will see now why business questions should be business questions.

Miss Devlin

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Motion No. 74?

[That this House is of the opinion that liberty and justice are nowhere so imperfectly maintained in the United Kingdom as to justify violent breaches of the peace for political motives, least of all by honourable Members of this House, who have sworn allegiance to the Crown on taking their seats; and that, therefore, although an honourable Member might be re-elected if expelled and if so would naturally thereafter he accepted by this House, this House should not tacitly condone violent breaches of the peace for political motives by an honourable Member; and that, accordingly, the honourable Member for Mid-Ulster be expelled the House.]

The Motion refers to the expulsion of an hon. Member from the House. It is a matter of disrespect and discourtesy to put down a Motion of that serious nature, which is in itself a reflection on the House, when those who put it down do not ask time to debate it. If their problem is lack of courage, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman when we can have time to debate it? If we cannot have time, will he persuade his hon. Friends, in deference and respect to the House, to take it off the Order Paper if they do not want it debated?

Mr. Iremonger

On a point of order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Leader of the House has been asked a question. The hon. Gentleman will come in in a moment.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Lady has said. I have said in the past that I did not see that there was reason to have time to debate the Motion. I have no doubt that my hon. Friends will also note what the hon. Lady has said. I would prefer to leave the matter there for the present.

Mr. Iremonger

On a point of order. With the greatest respect, Mr. Speaker, I tried to raise this point of order before my right hon. Friend was on his feet. My point of order is that in fact I had asked for time for the Motion to be debated. Therefore, is it in order for a question to be raised as a matter of censure on me for not having done something which I had done, as recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Mr. Speaker

That is a point of information on which there is apparently disagreement between the two hon. Members.

Mr. Rhodes

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Motion No. 140?

[That this House notes the speech of the Lord Chancellor on Wednesday, 18th November, columns 1201–2, House of Lords Official Report, in which, referring to the seriousness of the situation which this country is facing, he asserts that the disease of inflation in the United Kingdom is the same disease from which the Weimar Republic died and gave place to Hitler, and from which the Third Republic died and gave place to Pétain; notes the contradiction of this statement by the Leader of the House of Lords; and invites the Prime Minister to reconcile this contradiction by making a statement to the House setting out the official Government position on this contested issue.]

The Motion refers to the spectre of inflation. Since there appears to be a conflict between two right hon. Gentlemen in the Cabinet as to whether we are heading for some kind of collapse of our democratic system, and since this may have happened by the week after next, could we not have a debate next week, before it is too late?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot offer time for a debate next week. I cannot accept that there was a contradiction in the remarks made.

Sir F. Bennett

In regard to next Monday's business, when the Opposition are to take the opportunity to deplore the dismissal of the head of the Post Office by the Government, my right hon. Friend will have noticed another Motion on the Order Paper tabled by some hon. Members opposite, telling us that we should sack the Chairman of another nationalised industry.

[That this House deplores the recent pronouncements by the Chairman of the National Coal Board upon industrial relations; considers that those pronouncements are likely to produce industrial unrest; and calls, therefore, for his resignation.]

Does not he feel that it might save future debating time if we discussed both Motions together?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that it would be correct for me to confine myself to the simple point that when the Opposition officially put down a Motion of censure on a particular matter it is naturally for the Government to give time to debate that Motion at the earliest possible opportunity, and in this case we very gladly do so.

Mr. Faulds

When will the right hon. Gentleman—

An Hon. Member

Speak up.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) needs no encouragement.

Mr. Faulds

I understand the hon. Gentleman's professional jealously, Mr. Speaker.

When will the Leader of the House provide us with an opportunity to debate the Government's piddling little scheme to impose charges for museum and art gallery entrance?

Mr. Whitelaw

Not next week.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

May I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to add something to his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) on the Motion concerning the affair at the University of Essex? With respect to my right hon. Friend, this is not a university affair or a student brawl. Is he aware that Essex Members are deeply concerned at the danger not just to property but to human life if this sort of thing is repeated, namely, attacks on firemen trying to extinguish a fire?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must not debate the subject he is asking to debate. He may say that it is important, but he must just ask for a debate.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

May I ask for a statement by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in some form next week at the latest?

Mr. Whitelaw

If what I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East was interpreted as meaning that I thought that everything to do with the affair was a matter for Essex University, that would be incorrect. Obviously, some matters in the affair were the concern of Essex University; obviously, some are questions of law and order of wider concern. I made it perfectly clear in my original answer that I would refer those matters of law and order to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and he would see whether it was suitable to make a statement next week. I did not guarantee a statement but said that I would his attention to the question.

Mr. Ashley

In view of the concern about the limitation imposed on tabling Questions to the Prime Minister, will the right hon. Gentleman give time to debate Motion 142 next week, please?

[That this House deplores the Prime Minister's Answer to a parliamentary Question on 16th November, 1970 which, according to Mr. Speaker's ruling, effectively rules out any further Questions about the appointment of new Ministers or the establishment of new departments; asks the Prime Minister to give an undertaking that he will never again use this device to evade parliamentary Questions; and calls for an early change in the rules to prevent their abuse.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I regret that I cannot give time to debate such a Motion next week. What I have undertaken to do, in answer to the Leader of the Opposition, is to look into the question of Ministers in the new Departments. I said to him, and I repeat, that the standard practice is that the Prime Minister answers Questions about the speeches of Cabinet Ministers and Ministers of Cabinet rank. That practice has not changed. I recognise that there are some problems concerned with the new Departments, and these I am considering.

Dame Irene Ward

In view of the fact that quite a lot of outstanding matters have to be discussed by the Ministry of Defence, will my right hon. Friend ask the Minister of State for a statement next week on when the Ministry is going to decide how to treat Service widows fairly and squarely—a decision which has not been taken by either party in this House for a very long time? I would like to know when these widows are going to be properly treated.

Mr. Whitelaw

The best I can do today is promise my hon. Friend that I will call the attention of the Minister of State for Defence to what she has just said.

Mr. David Stoddart

Will the right hon. Gentleman give urgent attention to Questions which are put down to the Secretary of State for the Environment? Questions to that Department are getting rather difficult. Yesterday's list reached 120 and this situation does not give hon. Members the opportunity to ask Questions, receive answers and get in supplementaries. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give urgent attention to this problem with a view to enabling hon. Members to ask questions separately on housing, local government and transport as they hitherto were able to do.

Mr. Whitelaw

The position of Questions after the Christmas Adjournment is being discussed through the usual channels. From a long experience, on both sides of the House, of Question Time I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no means of producing a solution which satisfies everyone. One does one's best, and that is what we are doing through the usual channels.

Mr. Gurden

When does my right hon. Friend think will be the earliest date that we can have the Industrial Relations Bill, because there is some urgency in view of the fact that victimisation and discrimination are still being practised by certain trade union officials to rob people of their jobs?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should resist the temptation to go into merits.

Mr. Whitelaw

The Bill will be published soon. As I have already undertaken, it will have its Second Reading before the Christmas Adjournment.

Mr. Swain

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. Friend has just produced a Government Bill which in part stinks as much as the barnacles on the bottom of the Prime Minister's boat? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to produce a White Paper on fuel and power so that the nation and industry will know what is going to happen about the energy needs of the country this winter?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's considerable concern with matters connected with the Coal Bill. I have been able to keep the undertaking I gave to the Leader of the Opposition and to the hon. Gentleman about the position of redundant miners. As he knows, that is in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity next week to give his views on that part of the Bill and on the other parts, when he and I might not find ourselves in such close agreement. I cannot promise a White Paper, but I note what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Loughlin

May I revert to the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) on the question of the Motion which virtually constitutes a vote of censure on her? Will the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements so that she can be vindicated and hon. Members opposite who were responsible for that Motion withdraw it?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I do not think I would wish to add to my answer to the hon. Lady who quite properly, in her own interests, raised this question. What the whole House has to consider in this matter is what is best and most appropriate for the House as a whole and for its Members. That is the important interest. I appreciate its importance to the whole House and to every individual hon. Member. I accept that at once. I also think that the whole House will always consider what in the circumstances is the best course to follow. That is what I would like to do.

Mr. Buchan

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed two important Motions—in connection with Scottish housing—No. 158 standing in my name and the names of a number of my hon. Friends—

[That this House condemns in the strongest terms any imposition upon the local authorities by the Government of a policy of housing finance which would repudiate retrospectively existing subsidy agreements now applicable on houses already built, under construction or approved.]

and No. 154, even more weighty, standing in the names of a number of his hon. Friends, headed by a colonel, two knights and an earl?

[That this House laments the continuing housing shortage in Scotland; is shocked by the unemployment of more than 18,000 building operatives in Scotland; is dismayed by the penalties imposed on the Scottish construction industry by the previous administration amounting to £19 million attributable to selective employment tax and a further £8 million resulting from British Standard Time, in addition to the Construction Industry Training Board Levy; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to stimulate the industry by releasing it from these unmerited burdens at the earliest opportunity.]

In view of the fact that the Prime Minister has stated that he was assured that the Secretary of State for Scotland would be willing to discuss the housing situation, would the right hon. Gentleman assist now by allowing the Secretary of State time next week so that we can have such a discussion?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have noted both Motions, which were put down by various hon. Members. I could not give time for a debate next week, but there are opportunities at Question Time to raise these matters.

Captain Orr

Endorsing what my right hon. Friend has said about the case of the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin), could I ask what is the progress of the Committee of Privileges and when we can expect the Report?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not think that that is a question which I can properly answer on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Ifor Davies

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to Early Day Motion No. 146 censuring the Secretary of State for Wales on his attitude towards the inquiry into the gunnery range at Pembrey? Could he find time next week?

[That this House, being aware of the assumption of quasi-judicial responsibility by the Secretary of State for Wales in connection with the public inquiry into the proposal to establish a gunnery range at Pembrey, deplores his refusal made in answer to a Question by the honourable Member for Llanelli on 25th November to give an undertaking that he would not consult with the Ministry of Defence, a party to the inquiry; and demands that the statement by the Secretary of State for Wales be referred to the Council on Tribunals.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I could not find time to debate that matter next week, but I will call my right hon. Friend's attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Maclennan

In view of the Prime Minister's statement at Question Time today that he was not prepared to recommend a debate in Government time on the Scottish economy and the fact that the Report of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs has been outstanding for a long time, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to discuss this matter again with his colleagues in order to give the Secretary of State for Scotland an opportunity to explain to Scotland what are the expected effects of the Government's measures on the Scottish economy?

Mr. Whitelaw

I was asked last week if I would find time to debate the Report of the Select Committee on the Floor of the House, and I undertook to consider it. I have done so. I will give that time and then my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be very pleased to answer all the points the hon. Gentleman may make. Time will be found very soon after the Christmas Adjournment.

Mr. Ashton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister barely bothers to give replies to Questions? Is he further aware that the Prime Minister has not made a speech in this House since the first week of July? In view of the fact that the Prime Minister was behind the sacking of Lord Hall, will he be replying to the censure debate on Monday?

Mr. Whitelaw

What the hon. Gentleman does not like is not that my right hon. Friend does not answer Questions but that he answers them far too well, and indeed much better than did the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson) when he was Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman may have to wait until Monday to see who is to reply to the censure Motion, and he may be very surprised at who he sees.

Mrs. Renée Short

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the growing concern at the activities of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, particularly in countries of the Commonwealth, such as New Zealand and India? Will he therefore give an opportunity, if not next week certainly before Christmas, for the House to debate the effect of Britain's entry into the Common Market on Commonwealth countries?

Mr. Whitelaw

I promised the Leader of the Opposition last week that I would look into the question of my right hon. Friend giving more frequent statements to the House. I did so. My right hon. Friend made a statement this week, as requested. He will make another statement after the negotiations on 8th December. I am prepared to consider the question of a debate, but without commitment at the present time.

Mr. Dalyell

Has the right hon. Gentleman reflected on Early Day Motion No. 151 on the construction of a base in the Indian Ocean at Diego Garcia? Since this matter involves a cool £120 million, could we have a debate before there is any firm Anglo-American decision?

[That this House, estimating that a base/staging post at Diego Garcia would cost at least £120,000,000, calls on the Government to cease discussions with the United States Government on the issue.]

Mr. Whitelaw

The attitude of Her Majesty's Government in relation to the possible defence use of British Indian Ocean territory has been made clear, I understand, in answer to Parliamentary Questions and in a debate on the Adjournment on 16th November. I cannot foresee a further opportunity to debate the matter next week, but certainly I will call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to what the hon. Gentleman has said with a view to seeing whether a further statement needs to be made.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Does the Leader of the House recall that I asked him some weeks back whether he would ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement about whether the Government intend to continue with the building of the new town in central Lancashire? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the message was transmitted to his right hon. Friend? Since no statement has been made, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to convey the message with more urgency, so that Lancashire can be put out of its agony and know one way or the other?

Mr. Whitelaw

That will be conveyed to my right hon. Friend. If a statement is to be made on the subject, naturally it will be made to this House.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Minister of State for Defence to make a statement to this House about the legality of the Army's operations in Belfast from 3rd to 5th July of this year? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is time that this House had an explanation of why communicants were prevented from going to confession, why men were prevented from going to work and why an old man was shot dead without any legal authority—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is asking for a statement. These points will be in order when he gets the statement for which he is asking.

Mr. Whitelaw

It is not for me to comment on the various points which the hon. Gentleman has made. I will call the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister of State to the hon. Gentleman's request for a statement on these matters. I cannot guarantee that one will be made.

Mr. Carter

Will the Leader of the House protect hon. Members who put down Questions to the Prime Minister in his capacity as First Lord of the Treasury, only to find subsequently that these matters, of a sensitive nature which should be replied to by the Prime Minister, are transferred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, in being transferred, go too far down the list to receive Oral Answers?

Mr. Whitelaw

I can only say that the practice adopted by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is the same as that adopted by the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend. There is no difference at all.