HC Deb 07 April 1971 vol 815 cc452-62
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the week after the Recess?

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

Yes, Sir. The business for the week after the Easter Adjournment will be as follows:—

MONDAY, 19TH APRIL—Supply (14th Allotted Day): There will be a debate on the Royal Air Force, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Second Reading of the Coinage Bill [Lords], the Attachment of Earnings Bill [Lords], the National Savings Bank Bill [Lords] and the Rent (Scotland) Bill [Lords], which are Consolidation Measures.

TUESDAY, 20TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Licensing (Abolition of State Management) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Education (Scotland) Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 21ST APRIL—Second Reading of the Shipbuilding Industry Bill.

Remaining stages of the four Consolidation Measures.

THURSDAY, 22ND APRIL—Supply (15th Allotted Day): The topic to be debated will be announced later.

FRIDAY, 23RD APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the Leader of the House aware that while we welcome the fact that he will obviously be very accommodating about the amount of time for debating the Health Regulations and associated subjects, to put on a major Bill of such doctrinaire qualities as the Cumberland area Bill on the Tuesday after we come back means that we shall start on the Scottish business on, in our view, another extremely bad Bill rather late in the evening, and he will not expect the outcome of that debate until a pretty late hour?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I should like to have found time for the extra debate on the Health Service charges in this week, but it was not possible to find a mutually convenient time. However, I undertake to give half a day to a debate on the Prayers in the week starting 26th April.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says about the Education (Scotland) Bill. Perhaps I might be permitted the reflection that almost everything which could be said on that Bill has already been said.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I am sorry to get up a second time. The right hon. Gentleman will realise that that Bill will be coming before the vast majority of hon. Members for the first time, most of whom have had no opporunity of expressing the very strong views which they may feel about it. I do not know whether they will get an opportunity. This Bill affects the whole House, not just the Scottish Committee which has been considering it. Therefore, however much the right hon. Gentleman may be in a pre-holiday mood, I hope that he will think again about the words which he has used.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. I shall be interested to see whether some of the English Members opposite, or, indeed, on this side of the House, have the temerity to take part in a Scottish debate.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

Has my right hon. Friend seen Motion No. 510 standing in the names of hon. Members on both sides and of myself?

[That this House believes that matters essential to the future prosperity of the British fishing industry such as the access to coastal waters, grading, minimum prices and the importation of fish fillets should be negotiated with the European Economic Community prior to Parliament being asked to approve British entry.]

As there is a great deal of disquiet on the question of Britain's entry into the Common Market, particularly with regard to fishing, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that time will be found at an early date for a debate on this important subject?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that my hon. Friend will have heard the reply which was given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland on this matter. I appreciate the importance of this subject. It is naturally considered in the wider context. I cannot give an assurance that there will be a separate debate on it, but I shall keep the position in mind.

Mr. Lawson

Reverting to Tuesday's business, is the Leader of the House aware that the Education (Scotland) Bill is the major Bill to come from Scotland in this Session? Is it not an insult to the people of Scotland that a Bill of such importance should be brought on after the licensing Bill—probably at 10 o'clock at night? Will the right hon. Gentleman think again and give us at least a full day for the Report stage and Third Reading of this major Bill coming from Scotland in this Session?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am bound to say that this is a comparatively short Bill. I should think that the business announced was reasonable and I should like to stick to it.

Dame Irene Ward

I thank my right hon. Friend for at last finding time for the Shipbuilding Industry Bill. I hope, having waited so long, that we shall have a very good Bill.

I should also like to ask whether my right hon. Friend will find time for a debate on the fishing industry, which has been put forward in a Motion by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) and other hon. Members, because this is important to the Northern Region as well as to other fishing ports.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what she has said. I am glad that I have been able to produce the Shipbuilding Industry Bill as I promised, this week. I note what my hon. hon. Friend says about a debate on the fishing industry. I cannot add to what I have already said to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff.

Mr. George Thomas

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has got his priorities upside down? Is he further aware that to put the interests of the brewers before those of the Welsh people —[Interruption.]—the Scottish and no doubt the English people, is another injustice? The Leader of the House has long promised a debate on the Floor of the House on Welsh affairs. Will he drop his brewers' proposal and give us an opportunity to debate Welsh affairs?

Mr. Whitelaw

While I do not wish to enter into the merits at business question time, I think that I might reasonably refer to this Bill, in which I have a particular interest which practically no other hon. Member in this House has—

Hon. Members


Mr. Whitelaw

—as very few hon. Members have. If anybody considers it to be a brewers' Bill, I should say that it was better described as a taxpayers' Bill because of the better position in which it will put them thereafter. As for Welsh Members, they are not involved in this debate.

Mr. Onslow

In case there is any truth in reports that the responsibilities of the Department of Trade and Industry are to be increased, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he can assure the House that he will look into Questions to this Department so that important matters like Concorde are not lost sight of altogether?

Mr. Whitelaw

When changes are announced of the kind to which my hon. Friend refers, naturally I am prepared, as always, to consider the position of the Question roster through the usual channels and with individual Members as well.

Mr. Wallace

Has the Leader of the House seen Motion No. 505 dealing with the increased cost of basic foods in the City of Norwich during the month of March which have risen by 3 per cent.?

[That this House notes that costs of basic foods in the city of Norwich have risen during the month of March by three per cent., bearing in mind that East Anglia has one of the lowest average wages in England and that unemployment has considerably increased; and, mindful of the hardship that such increases in prices will cause to many sections of the community, this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to institute an inquiry into price margins in East Anglia.]

This is a grievous hardship in an area of low average wages and increasing unemployment. In view of this hardship, will the right hon. Gentleman at least give us a little time to discuss this very important issue?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have noted the Motion on the Order Paper. I thought that many of these matters could be discussed during the debate on the Budget last week, which seems to have had a rather different effect from what the terms of the Motion suggest.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for his right hon. Friend to make a statement or, better still, to arrange for a debate on the possible closure of the Stranraer rail link? This is causing considerable concern not only in Scotland, but in Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland are to some extent dependent on that rail link with Scotland because of the dangerous state of our economy and the exorbitant increases in air fares.

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall certainly call the attention of my right hon. Friend to what my hon. Friend has said. I cannot guarantee that a statement will be made at the present time.

Mr. William Hamilton

May I make a helpful suggestion? I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might reverse the business on Tuesday so that we take the Education (Scotland) Bill first and then the pubs Bill after closing hours, because, like many other hon. Members, I have not yet opened my mouth on the Education (Scotland) Bill and I very much want to do so on Tuesday.

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the attraction of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I should like to maintain the business as it stands.

Dame Joan Vickers

Will my right hon. Friend indicate when we shall discuss the White Paper on the Reorganisation of Local Government?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot say today, but I appreciate the importance of being able to say so at a reasonably early date.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware that the Minister for the Civil Service today said that the Prime Minister is to make a statement tomorrow about the Review Body which is to be appointed to investigate the salaries of the higher-paid State civil servants and the poorer-paid Members of Parliament. As this body will obviously want to know the views of Members of Parliament on this most important subject, could he arrange a day for debate, or at least half a day, if not in the first week after we return at least before the committee starts its proceedings?

Mr. Whitelaw

As the hon. Gentleman said, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be making an announcement tomorrow about the chairmen of the top salaries Review Body, to which I have undertaken that the salaries of Ministers and Members of Parliament will be referred—

Mr. Lewis

That is the wrong name.

Mr. Whitelaw

That, if I may say so, is what this body is called, and I undertook that Ministers' and Members' salaries—without going into whether or not they were in that category—would be referred to that body. That was the promise which I made in answer to the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) before Christmas. I also undertake that as soon as this chairman has been appointed I will discuss with him the possible terms of reference, which I will also discuss through the usual channels and, indeed, with any other hon. Members who are interested in the matter. The best way to proceed, I think—although we had better see what the chairman and the board feel—would be, as I suspect he would wish, that all right hon. and hon. Members who wish to give evidence to this body should be able to do so.

Mr. Moate

Would my right hon. Friend recognise that an unsatisfactory position exists over the question of a statement on the siting of a third London airport? I appreciate that the Government are not responsible for what appears in the Press—or not always—but he will have seen reports that a statement is expected this week. He will appreciate that this is a subject which threatens the very homes of many people and that uncertainty in this context is to be deplored. Why should there be any secrecy about finding out whether statements are likely to be made? Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether a statement is expected soon, and exactly when?

Mr. Whitelaw

There is no secrecy about finding out when statements are to be made. Last Thursday, when asked about this subject, I said that it was unlikely that a statement would be made this week. Perhaps my hon. Friend will have noted that in the event I have been proved correct—a statement will not be made this week. I cannot, at the moment, say when it will be made, but it will be very soon after Easter.

Mr. Buchan

The right hon. Gentleman is a little misinformed about the Education (Scotland) Bill which is to be discussed on Tuesday. Although small, it contains a vast and important principle. There is no immediate urgency for this Bill. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not accept the rumours that it is connected with the May elections in Glasgow. Can this Bill not be postponed, at least until the next week? If not, if we are still discussing it in the early hours, can we expect an adjournment of the debate so that it can be continued in the proper way the following week?

Mr. Whitelaw

I should have thought that this Bill has been taking its course through the House. It has now come to a stage, some time after it has finished its Committee stage, when it would be perfectly reasonable to put it down for its remaining stages to be taken. This has been done. I think that it is reasonable, and I should like to see how we get on.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

When my right hon. Friend has the Welsh and the Scots behind him, will he consider giving time for a debate on the arts?

Mr. Whitelaw

I was not aware that I had either the Welsh or the Scots behind me, judging from what they have been saying. I cannot guarantee a debate on the arts in the near future, but I recognise the importance of the subject.

Mr. Ross

Would the right hon. Gentleman keep an open mind about this? He will appreciate that the Licensing (Abolition of State Management) Bill affects Scotland, too—in respect of both Gretna and Invergordon—so Scots will be tied up with that controversial Bill as well. It is wrong to start after 10 o'clock on a major controversial Bill like the Education (Scotland) Bill and make up our minds that we are going on to the end. This is not the way to do business. Would the right hon. Gentleman have a look at how we are going on and he prepared at a suitable time to move the adjournment? This is what happened under the last Government with a similar Bill.

Mr. Whitelaw

I still feel that the business as put down is reasonable, and I should like to see how we get on.

Mr. Rost

In view of the continuing public concern about price increases in the nationalised industries and the public sector—[HON. MEMBERS: "And the private."]—would it be possible for my right hon. Friend to consider arranging a debate on the Government's policy towards the nationalised industries' financing and price increases?

Mr. Whitelaw

We have had some debates on these subjects. I cannot guarantee one in the near future.

Mr. Strauss

Will the Leader of the House bear in mind, in view of the pressure which is being exerted on him to give time for a variety of matters, that the one matter which has been before him and, indeed, the previous Government for three and a half years, and which is now getting more and more urgent, is a consideration of and a decision on the Report of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, and that among many other things which require to be put right is the present situation whereby a letter written by an hon. Member to a Minister criticising the conduct or the efficiency of a body for which that Minister is responsible is still not covered under the privileges of the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

I realise the importance of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. There is a problem of implementing this, and I have promised in the past that the House should have the opportunity of deciding whether or not it wishes to implement the Report of the Select Committee. The other point which the right hon. Gentleman raised, about letters, is very complicated and difficult. I recognise that the House should certainly apply its mind to this matter.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that now that we have had an opportunity to look at the White Paper on commercial broadcasting we regard it as neither fish, nor fowl nor good red meat, but a piece of doctrinaire Toryism which we on this side do not accept at all? We are totally opposed to the concept. Will the right hon. Gentleman provide us with an early opportunity to discuss this White Paper?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will not follow the hon. Member into the merits of the proposal. Naturally, time will be found to debate this White Paper. I cannot at the moment say when this will be.

Mr. Bob Brown

Would the right hon. Gentleman reflect again on the words which he used about the brewers' Bill, namely, "I am one of the few Members with a direct interest in it"? I would have thought that many hon. Members on this side would certainly want to attack the Second Reading of this vicious and doctrinaire Tory Bill. Equally, I would have thought that there might be hon. Members of the Conservative Party representing brewing interests who would like to express their gratitude to the Government for this sell-out to the brewers.

Mr. Whitelaw

Nothing which the hon. Gentleman says has in any way contradicted the point which I made. I said that I was one of the few Members who had a direct interest, in that this particular State management scheme operates in my constituency, and very few hon. Members can say that. To that extent, my point was absolutely correct. I do not wish to follow the hon. Gentleman into the merits. If other hon. Members wish to take part in this argument one way or the other, that is perfectly reasonable, but I still do not think that it in any way contradicts my assertion about my own direct interest in the matter. The only thing which I am sad about is that, for obvious reasons, I shall not have the opportunity to take part in the debate—as I would very much like to do.

Mr. Pannell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the subject of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), has now become tedious? Is he aware that, if he applies his mind to it, he will find a considerable amount in the Report which requires legislation and which need not bother us at the moment? But there is quite a degree of it, including the question raised by my right hon. Friend, which could merely be incorporated into the general Orders of the House and should not take too much time. But we might run into another case which would take the Select Committee a long time, with great hardship to hon. Members. There is an element of urgency in this.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, whose knowledge and experience in these matters I fully recognise. I should like to proceed in this, because I have the same interest as both right hon. Members in making sure that the whole question of privileges and of the operations of the Select Committee is conducted on the best possible basis. I will certainly see what I can do to that end.

Mr. Wellbeloved

In view of the report in The Times that some of the protest groups opposed to the Roskill Commission's recommendations in respect of the siting of the third London airport have been financed by a vested interest concerned with the Foulness site, will the right hon. Gentleman allow time for further debate before the Government reach a decision?

Mr. Whitelaw

I read the report, but I am afraid I cannot give such an assurance. I have already undertaken that the Government will make a statement on their decision very soon after Easter.

Mr. Millan

Could we have a statement tomorrow on the latest position regarding Rolls-Royce, even though I appreciate that it must to some extent be an interim statement; but this is a very important matter.

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the importance of the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. However, it might be diffi- cult for a statement, even an interim one, to be made in present circumstances, but I will investigate the position.

Mr. Money

Would my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of allowing time for the House to debate the Ashby report on environmental pollution?

Mr. Whitelaw

I realise the importance of the subject, but I cannot say when it will be possible to debate that report.