HC Deb 29 October 1970 vol 805 cc426-39
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, 2ND NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Government (Qualification of Councillors) Bill.

Motions on the Weights and Measures Amendment Orders.

TUESDAY, 3RD NOVEMBER—Motions to approve the White Paper on the Re-organisation of Central Government (Command No. 4506) and on the Transfer of Functions Orders.

Motions on the Salaries of the Comptroller and Auditor General and of the Parliamentary Commissioner.

WEDNESDAY, 4TH NOVEMBER—Motion to approve the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Statement of 27th October on Public Expenditure and Taxation and the related White Papers (Command Numbers 4515 and 4516).

Ways and Means Resolutions on Income Tax and Corporation Tax.

This debate will be continued on Thursday, 5th November, the 4th Allotted Supply Day, when the Vote on Account for the Civil Estimates, 1971–72 will also be before the House.

FRIDAY, 6TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Contingencies Fund Bill and of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.

Motions on the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 Modification Order and on the Anti-Dumping Duty Orders.

MONDAY, 9TH NOVEMBER—Motions on the Southern Rhodesia Act (Continuation) Order and on the Southern Rhodesia (Matrimonial Jurisdiction) Order.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, as we have asked in our approaches to the Government, the Government will provide time in the very near future for a debate on defence, as a result of the publication of the White Paper? I believe that that is traditional, but will he confirm that that is to be the case? Secondly, can he say when he expects to find time for a debate on his own Green Paper on various aspects of Parliamentary procedure, Select Committees and other things? Will he find separate time to ensure that there can be a debate about the decision that he announced yesterday in the House in relation to Members' interests, Members being concerned with sales promotion, and things of that kind? Is he aware that on that question many hon. Members may wish to disagree with the terms of particular Resolutions proposed by the Select Committee? In the view of many hon. Members, and in the view of the Select Committee, the matter cannot be left where it is. If the right hon. Gentleman does not like these Resolutions, will he think about coming up with Resolutions that will deal with the menace to the functioning of Parliament?

Mr. Whitelaw

I confirm that the Government will find time to debate the Defence White Paper. The exact time and the arrangements for that debate I hope we shall be able to discuss through the usual channels. On the second point—a debate on my own Green Paper—I hope to do that in the near future. On the third point, concerning Members' interests, I said yesterday that I was quite clear that what the Select Committee had reported—in respect of the principles that it enunciated—was absolutely correct, and that those principles would be accepted in all parts of the House. My quarrel then—and it remains so—was with the exact terms of the Resolutions, which I genuinely believe would be too restrictive and would inhibit some of the workings of the House to which we have all become accustomed. I join with the right hon. Gentleman in saying that it is most important for the good name and proper working of the House of Commons that where Members of Parliament have particular outside interests these should be known to their colleagues in the House not only when they take part in debates but also when they are pursuing their normal parliamentary duties. I believe this to be right. I am prepared to consider, through the usual channels, or with the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else, how best to carry that through. I am inclined to believe that the House of Commons often finds it best to rely on the good sense of Members and not to put down matters too rigidly on paper—but I am quite open to consider whether I am right in that regard.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. Obviously, there is little between him and many of us on the principles at stake. I welcome the fact that there can be discussions between the parties. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that whatever—to use his word—quarrel he has with the Resolutions, this is not a matter for the Government alone but a matter affecting the standing of the House. It is eminently a matter on which the House should express an opinion. I do not agree with him that it is enough to leave it where it is. We must find some other means—and perhaps not merely by way of these Resolutions. Will the right hon. Gentleman say that either in a debate on the Green Paper or, preferably, in a separate debate, the views of the whole House will be sought before the right hon. Gentleman makes up his mind on the basis of his reading of the Select Committee's report?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has put that question. I am afraid that I may have arrogated to myself something which I never intended. I tried to state what my view was. I fully appreciate that this is a matter for the House as a whole. I am delighted to take the views of the House into account, but I thought it right that I should state my views. I hope that I did not give to myself some position which I do not wish to have.

As far as a debate is concerned, I should like to consider this. The right thing to do is to have the discussions first, and then let us see how we get on.

Sir D. Renton

May I refer to my right hon. Friend's statement yesterday that the Government propose to reappoint certain Select Committees and may I remind the House that he said that there would be an early debate upon this matter? May I draw his attention to the importance of losing as little time as possible in the reappointment of the Select Committee on Science and Technology so that that Committee may quickly pick up the threads which were put down in the last Parliament?

Mr. Whitelaw

As I promised the Leader of the Opposition, we shall have an early debate on my Green Paper.

As to the reappointment of some of the Select Committees referred to in the Green Paper, I would not wish to preempt the views of the House as a whole. On the other hand, there seems to have been some general view that some of these Committees should be reappointed and that the Green Paper was right in making that proposal. If it were so, and if there were agreement through the usual channels, after taking into account the views of both sides of the House, that some of these Committees should be set up before such a procedural debate, I would be ready to accede to that course. But this must be a matter for the House as a whole, and if there should be Members who objected to that course and wanted a debate first, I would wait; but it might be in the general interests of the House and to the general agreement of the House that some of these Committees might be appointed earlier, and I would suggest discussions through the usual channels.

Mr. Strauss

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind when considering discussions on the Select Committee report on the declaration of interest, that he, no doubt unwittingly, misled the House yesterday when he suggested that members of trade unions would be prevented from discussing trade unions when the matter came up before the House. The major resolution which we suggested was greatly concerned with declaration of interest and there was no word about prevention or prohibition of speech.

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman consider something which I think has really greater priority—bringing before the House proposals to implement the Report of the Select Committee on Privileges, which was published three years ago, and whose non-implementation or non-discussion in the House is holding up the proper work of the Committee of Privileges?

Mr. Whitelaw

If I have been wrong in what I said, I bow to the right hon. Gentleman. He has a great knowledge of this House—far greater than mine. I must tell him that I was advised of the danger of this particular Resolution, and from that I do not think I withdraw.

As to the right hon. Gentleman's second point on privileges, I am very concerned to come forward with proposals of that particular Select Committee's report, and I know that there are many Members, including the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who are particularly interested in the matter. I have never forgotten his view, which no doubt he still holds, expressed during the last Parliament, that he was not prepared to allow any further cases of privilege to go forward without considerable debate, until this Select Committee's report had been implemented or measures taken in that regard. I am hoping to bring forward proposals very shortly.

Mr. Buck

Can my right hon. Friend indicate when it is his intention to lay an Order under the British Standard Time Act? Is he aware how welcome it is that the Government have given such an early indication that they do not intend to try to dragoon Members either for or against the Order which will be laid?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot say exactly the time when this Order will be brought before the House. What indications the Government give to their Members is a matter for the Chief Whip. I have a little experience of these sorts of arrangements. Perhaps I should say that if the House is agreed on all sides, and the House does have a free vote, this would help some Members from the North like myself who do not find ourselves in total agreement with many of our colleagues on this issue.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

With regard to the debate on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill next Friday, which I presume will be followed shortly after by the normal procedure of the Committee stage, in the Gracious Speech we were promised an immigration Bill. Does this mean that the Bill will be dropped?

Mr. Whitelaw

No, the Bill will come forward in its own due time in this Session. But until the Bill comes forward, this particular Expiring Laws Continuance Bill has to continue and the normal procedure has to go on until it is superseded.

Mr. Iremonger

Has the Leader of the House observed on the Order Paper three important Motions in the names of myself and other hon. Members, on the voluntary civil aid services: [That this House expresses its admiration of, and thanks to, the thousands of people who have joined the Voluntary Civil Aid Services since the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service were disbanded and who volunteered for training at their own expense so that they could help local authorities to deal with emergencies; and looks forward to the day when Her Majesty's Government will reorganise the emergency services in a way which will enable volunteers to play a full part.] on air piracy:— [That this House, being particularly concerned that the problems arising out of continuing acts of piracy in the air should not be overlooked in the general anxiety about mischief in the Middle East and the exploitation of it by the Communist powers; being convicted that air piracy will continue to be used as a weapon by the sick political fringe in all parts of the world, believes that a British initiative to hasten international agreement on air piracy is urgently required; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to provide time for the matter to be discussed by the House without delay.] and the protection of honest shoppers:— [That this House takes note of the fact that Mrs. Molly Horne, of Ayr Green, Romford, Essex, was acquitted on appeal by the North-East London Quarter Sessions of a charge of stealing from the London Co-operative Society's store in Romford on 10th April, 1970; that the conflicting evidence given by detectives employed by the Society gives grounds for suspicion of perjury by one or other of them and of conspiracy between them, and that the criminal investigation department of the police was for that reason concerned to study the progress of the case from the Havering Magistrates' Court; that Mrs. Horne's determination to clear her name has cost her, as well as much anguish and distress, a very considerable slim of money; therefore further notes with surprise and regret that the President of the London Co-operative Society has not responded to the suggestion made to him by the hon. Member for Ilford, North, that the Society should reimburse Mrs. Horne for her expenses and advertise in the Ilford and Romford Recorder newspaper the Society's apologies for the wrong done to her; calls upon the Attorney-General to ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate the evidence given by the two store detectives with a view to instituting criminal proceedings for perjury and conspiracy; further, calls upon the Secretary of State for the Home Department to investigate the Society's security organisation and methods; and, further calls upon the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to introduce legislation to require companies responsible for making false accusations to pay the costs incurred by honest shoppers like Mrs. Horne in clearing their names and to insert in the appropriate newspapers substantial and prominent advertisements apologising for the wrong done.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member may ask for time to discuss one of those Motions.

Mr. Iremonger

Honest traders, then.

Mr. Whitelaw

Despite my hon. Friend's preference, which I appreciate, I am afraid that I could not promise him time either next week or in the relatively near future.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), when Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced the intention of the previous Government to remove selective employment tax from the theatre. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if that Government had remained in power, selective employment tax would have been taken off the theatre by now?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot discuss the merits of the Motion. He must ask a business question.

Mr. Jenkins

I will take full notice of what you have said, Mr. Speaker.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this has not happened and that the party opposite, which is supposed to be devoted to the removal of tax, is responsible for keeping it on? When will he place the relevant Order before the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I have no further statement to make on the matter at the moment.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

With regard to the report of the Select Committee on Members' interests, would my right hon. Friend, as well as having discussions through the usual channels to which he referred, initiate discussions collectively if possible with those Members of the Select Committee who are still in the service of the House, with a view to clarifying matters arising out of the report, and explore the possibility of acceptable modifications of the Resolutions which would give effect to the substance of the intentions of the Committee while avoiding possible dangers which would not be generally desired?

Mr. Whitelaw

Most certainly, yes.

Mr. English

On the same subject, does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that many of us would share some of his views on the particular Motions, but would still wish to have a debate? Would he, therefore, arrange a debate as well as having discussions through the channels to which he referred?

Mr. Whitelaw

The first thing is to have the discussions and then see where we get to. I want to have a debate on my Green Paper on Procedure first. I regard that as the most urgent. I could not, in view of my resistance to my colleagues from time to time, be too prodigal with the House's time in some of these matters. We ought to have the discussions first if possible, not only between the two Front Benches, but in the House as a whole and if we can come to some agreed method of proceeding that would be best. I do not rule out a debate. Perhaps we can come to an agreement on some Resolutions if thought desirable. But I would like to await the discussions first.

Mr. John Page

In view of the undertaking given on Tuesday evening by the Minister for Housing and Construction that no further Resolution would be introduced for the approval of the House before a White Paper had been introduced, can my right hon. Friend explain why there are to be amendment Orders to the Weights and Measures Act debated on Monday evening?

Mr. Whitelaw

I should like to look into this question. I understood my right hon. Friend to say that he would consider putting forward a White Paper on this matter. As for these particular Orders, I did not appreciate, perhaps due to my own ignorance, that they were so closely tied to the whole subject of metrication. I thought they were on the subject of a voluntary procedure. I did not think they were quite in the terms in which my hon. Friend puts them.

Mr. Palmer

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the reappointment of Select Committees, including the Committee on Science and Technology, now depended on the outcome of the debate which the House is to have? Suppose that there is no particular outcome of that debate, what then?

Mr. Whitelaw

I apologise if I did not make myself heard, which is unusual. I did not actually say that all this would have to await the outcome of the debate. What I said was that, as apparently there had been some measure of agreement in the House, as I could judge it, that some of these Committees should be set up before the debate, then after discussions through the usual channels some of them might be set up. As for the outcome of the debate, whatever happens there will be an outcome to the debate because, once we have had the views of the House, then clearly we must proceed and it must be the Government's responsibility, I hope with the agreement of the House, to put forward proposals. I personally hope that they will be on the lines of the Green Paper that I have presented.

Dame Irene Ward

Has my right hon. Friend seen the Motion in my name in regard to getting Secretaries of State to visit our area? [That, in the opinion of this House, in order that the urgent problems of the North East of England should have adequate comparable facilities for discussion at Cabinet and Parliamentary level enjoyed by Scotland and Wales, the Secretaries of State for Employment, Education and Science, Housing and Local Government, Social Services (representing Pensions and Health), Technology, Transport and the Chancellor of the Exchequer should immediately, jointly and separately, visit the Region, as without face-to-face consultations with moderate opinion locally Secretaries of State cannot be fully conversant with regional needs.] Could he tell me who in the Cabinet will draw attention to our particular needs in relation to the powers exercised by the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what my hon. Friend says. I am sure that my right hon. Friends who are particularly concerned with regional development, and also my hon. Friends, will be visiting the North-East. It is perhaps fair to point out to my hon. Friend that two members of the Cabinet come from her particular part of the world in the North.

Mr. Oram

Has the Leader of the House noted the publication of the Houghton Report on the adoption of children, and does he appreciate that it is framed in such a way as to invite public comment on a whole series of important propositions? Will he give consideration to a debate in this House as an important means of expressing public opinion on this subject.

Mr. Whitelaw

I fully appreciate the importance of that report and of the subject with which it deals. I am afraid that I could not promise a debate at present, but I will bear the matter in mind.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered providing time for a debate on the Government's airport policy in Yorkshire, having regard to the recent governmental decision to prevent the extension of the runway at Leeds-Bradford Airport, which could have disastrous effects on the continuation of that airport as well as serious consequences for the development of industry in the region?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman said. He has given some information to me which I did not previously know. I will see that it is brought to the notice of my colleagues concerned, but I could not possibly promise a debate in the near future.

Mr. William Hamilton

In regard to the matter of declaration of Members' interests, many of us are suspicious of this cosy little tea party arranged between the two Front Benches—Lords reform was a good example. Could we have an assurance that, whatever the outcome of that tea party, there will be a debate on any agreed or disagreed resolutions that might be put forward? The right hon. Gentleman has been a little more forthcoming today than he was yesterday. Could he go a little further and guarantee us a debate on the outcome of that meeting?

Mr. Whitelaw

In regard to what the hon. Gentleman has said about cosy tea parties, I have lived on the opposite side of the "usual channels" for six years, and in all that time I cannot remember having had a cosy tea party. As for his second point, there will necessarily be a debate if as a result of discussions, which I do not wish to confine to the two Front Benches, Resolutions are put forward. There will then, of course, have to be a debate. If it were decided not to put forward any resolutions and if there were disagreement, again I would undertake to have a debate.

Mr. William Price

When does the right hon. Gentleman propose to bring forward the previous Government's Bill to abolish live hare-coursing?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have nothing to say about that Bill this week.

Mr. Harper

Will the Leader of the House say when he expects to publish the coal industry Bill?

Mr. Whitelaw

Very shortly and my right hon. Friend will be talking about the subject during this afternoon's debate.

Mr. Shore

In view of the many developments that have taken place since 30th June, the opening of negotiations in Luxembourg for Common Market entry, and bearing in mind the grave worries that these have caused on both sides of the House, will the Leader of the House consider an early debate on the course of the negotiations?

Mr. Whitelaw

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will shortly be making a statement about the latest position. I think that on previous occasions it has been agreed that this should be the procedure so that the House should be kept informed at all stages of negotiations. This is the right way of proceding and I should like to stick to it.

Mr. David Stoddart

Bearing in mind the difficulties of road transport undertakings, problems of public transport, the Government's roads policy and the fact that the Government have now appointed a Minister for the Environment, will the right hon. Gentleman please arrange for an early debate on roads and transportation policy?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will bear all those considerations in mind, but as yet I cannot promise a debate on this subject.

Mr. Harold Wilson

In view of the anxieties which were expressed by many of us in the earlier interchange with the Secretary of State for Employment, would the Leader of the House consider the points which were raised by myself and others on this side of the House about Ministers leaning on local authorities and conceivably threatening them and arrange for a statement to be made next week, either by the Prime Minister who wrote the letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart), or by the right hon. Gentleman himself, so that the anxieties of the House may be allayed? Is he aware that, for reasons the House will understand, we do not want to propose a debate while the dispute is still continuing, but we will want to ask for a debate afterwards on the conduct of the Government in this matter. Will he make available to the House in suitable form the correspondence concerned, which at the moment we can only read about in this morning's Press, and may we have a statement next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the possibility of a statement being made next week, I will bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friends who are concerned. I should have thought that the House, on the initiative of the Opposition, had given this matter considerable attention following the Private Notice Question on this matter. If there is any reason to have a statement next week, I will bring it to their attention, but I cannot promise anything.

On the suggestion that the letters should be published, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that it would be a somewhat surprising departure if letters from Ministers to Members were to be published, or put in the Library. This would be a new development in the House and we would have to consider it very carefully.

Mr. Harold Wilson

But is he aware that this correspondence has been put in the Daily Telegraph—in whole or in part, I cannot be sure? In these circumstances, when a matter involves public policy as opposed to a constituent's case, it is surely not unusual for hon. Members to ask to see such correspondence. That is what I am suggesting.

Mr. Whitelaw

It is not unusual for right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House to publish letters they have received from Ministers either in the national or in the local Press. I am not convinced as yet—and I take due account of what the right hon. Gentleman has said—that in this case such a departure from normal practice would be justified.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Will the Leader of the House be able to find time for a debate on the reported suppression by the Government of the report of the Cohen Committee on housing associations?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I could not promise him time for a debate in the near future.

Mr. David Stoddart

On a point of order May I have your permission, Mr. Speaker, to use the copying machines to circulate 600 copies of the Prime Minister's letter?

Mr. Speaker

That is a question I would have to look into. I am not sure how many copies an hon. Member is allowed.