HC Deb 22 April 1971 vol 815 cc1363-72
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House whether 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, 26TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Social Security Bill.

Motion on the Ministry of Aviation Supply (Dissolution) Order.

TUESDAY, 27TH APRIL—Motion On the Family Income Supplements (Computation) Regulations.

Motions relating to the National Health Service (Charges) Regulations.

At Seven o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named Opposed Private Business for consideration.

WEDNESDAY, 28TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Motion on the Amendments to the Potato Marketing Scheme, 1955.

THURSDAY, 29TH APRIL—Supply [16th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on unemployment, on an Opposition Motion.

Motion on the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order.

FRIDAY, 30TH APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 3RD MAY—Second Reading of the National Insurance Bill.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there have been undertakings to keep the House informed about the situation in Pakistan. Is he aware—if he is not, may I inform him—that the Opposition officially intend to table a Motion on the very grave situation in Pakistan, not in censorious terms but expressing the concern of, I am sure, the whole House? Would he consider how this might be properly debated, either as a separate Motion or as part of an early Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs debate?

Second, the right hon. Gentleman has announced the unemployment debate, for which we have allotted a Supply Day. Is he aware of the deep concern in all quarters of the House about the further prospective redundancies in the steel industry, speeded up as a result of Government policy, despite the Prime Minister's attempt to disclaim responsibility today? In view of this, would he recall that the Government—[An HON. MEMBER: "Question."]—this is a question to the right hon. Gentleman—have undertaken that their review of the steel industry, which is why they have not made other statements earlier, should be concluded in a week or two? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that we shall then expect an emergency debate on the steel industry as soon as we have that report? Will he also give an assurance that that report will not be delayed beyond the time that we were promised by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says about Pakistan. Of course I agree that the whole House is very concerned about this situation, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has, as the Prime Minister made clear, been using every influence that this country has to ensure an end of the bloodshed as soon as possible. The Foreign Secretary will wish to keep the House informed and I am prepared to discuss through the usual channels how the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman tells me is to be tabled might be handled in future.

As for the steel industry, the matters to which the right hon. Gentleman referred can most properly be discussed very simply, provided that the Opposition Motion—as I understand it—allows that to happen, in the debate on unemployment. I understand that that is their intention—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think that hon. Members have misunderstood me. The question of the redundancies in the steel industry can be discussed on that Motion.

As for the question of the review of the steel industry, I certainly note what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The result of that review will be announced as soon as it is ready, and I undertake to report to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the right hon. Gentleman has said. Pending the debate on unemployment, I do not accept some of the implications of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. Lord Melchett made it clear that these redundancies were part of the rationalisation programme which had previously been planned.

Mr. Harold Wilson

There should be no misunderstanding: I heard Lord Melchett too. Is the Leader of the House aware that, while the noble Lord said that this was not due to Government policy in relation to the intervention on prices, he said that it was due to the falling off of demand, and if that is not Government policy no one in the House knows what it can possibly be. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Get On with it."] If the right hon. Gentleman makes obiter dicta in a business answer he will get further questions in a business question.

With regard to the business for next Thursday, on which he also pronounced obiter dicta, is he aware that we who will be responsible for the Motion would feel that a debate on unemployment obviously would not rule out the question of redundancies in steel? But it is not principally about steel. When 7,000 redundancies for the coming month are compared with a 48,000 increase in unemployment—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman seeks to give guidance to the Chair on what is in order. I am allowed, as the author of the Motion, to tell the right hon. Gentleman where he is wrong.

Is he aware, therefore, that although in our view the question of steel will be included in that debate, we shall be very much concerned to discuss the wider increase in unemployment affecting other industries, including white-collar industries, and that we still require a debate on steel—not only on redundancies but on the Government's interference with the industry?

Mr. Whitelaw

I thought I had made that perfectly clear. If I did not make it clear before, I shall make it clear now. All I said was that I understood that, if we were to have a debate on unemployment, naturally the question of redun- dancies in the steel industry would be part of that debate. Of course I accept that there are many other issues in that debate, but clearly I understood yesterday after the Motion under Standing Order No. 9 was moved that it was part of the Opposition's desire that there should be an opportunity, among other discussions of unemployment, to refer also to the redundancies in the steel industry. That was all I said. As for the rest of the steel industry, I have made the position perfectly clear for the future.

Mr. Crouch

I should like to raise an entirely different subject. I should like my right hon. Friend to remember that he assured the House some weeks ago that a statement on the question of the siting of the third London airport would be delivered to this House before it was released to the Press. Last night, in the Evening Standard, and also on the radio and in the morning's papers, there was an air of authority about statements concerning the siting of the third London airport which gives me cause for great concern and which causes a great deal of concern to the hundreds of thousands of people who are involved. I hope that my right hon. Friend can assure me and every hon. Member that that was not an organised leak to soften the blow—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman asking a question?

Mr. Crouch

I am asking my right hon. Friend to assure the House that there is no question of an organised leak to soften the blow of this very serious decision facing Parliament and the people of this country. I would ask him to remember that back benchers will not sit back for ever being fobbed off, with information being delivered to the public before it is delivered in this Chamber.

Mr. Whitelaw

I make it absolutely clear to my hon. Friend and the House that I cannot be responsible for speculation. I am responsible for promising the House when a statement will be made, and it will be made as soon as the Government are ready to make it. No one regrets speculation more than I. No one is more anxious than I to see it stopped, and if I were given some help in doing it I should be very grateful and would do everything in my power to stop it.

Mr. John Mendelson

With reference to the steel debate—and some of us do speak for steel constituencies, although they have not had much of an innings so far—does not the right hon. Gentleman recall that yesterday when a debate under Standing Order No. 9 was sought, and in the subsequent questions, there was a demand for a debate on the position in the steel industry? The Prime Minister made the misleading declaration today that Lord Melchett had said that these redundancies were the result of the last Government's policy, when he knows that Lord Melchett had said many times up to about three months ago that they would be phased over a period of five years or more as new jobs were coming through new steel works all over the country. Since the Government have prevented Lord Melchett and the Corporation from pursuing that policy, which they agreed with the last Government, the issue ought to be debated separately as soon as possible.

Mr. Whitelaw

I will not follow the hon. Gentleman in his various remarks about the steel industry. As I have said, the question of the immediate redundancies in the industry will, I understand, form part, although perhaps as the Leader of the Opposition said not necessarily a major part, of the debate next Thursday. I have also undertaken that as soon as my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is ready to announce the results of his review of the industry he will so announce them. The question then of a debate can be considered.

Dr. Glyn

Has my right hon. Friend seen Motion No. 478, standing in my name and the names of 100 other hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House, relating to special opportunities for back bench speakers? Is he aware that this is in line with what Mr. Speaker himself has been pressing back benchers to do—to keep their speeches down to ten minutes?

[That this House considers that, in order to increase the opportunities for back benchers to contribute to proceedings, the occupant of the Chair should have the power to limit the time taken by back bench speakers to ten minutes in any debate, except by leave of the House.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I have noted the terms of the Motion. These are matters which can properly be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure in its review of the legislative process. I suspect that it is doing just that.

Mr. Orme

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members who have constituents directly affected by the recent announcement of the British Steel Corporation do not feel it satisfactory to include it in a general debate, since the Government will be able to slide off the problem? Who will answer on behalf of the Government? Will that Minister have authority to give an answer on the steel questions? Many of us on this side feel that the steel industry ought to be discussed very soon—in fact, that it might be advantageous to have a debate before the Secretary of State comes to his conclusions so that he can hear what the House has to say about the matter.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, since his question helps me to say that the Government are anxious to meet what they feel will be the wishes of the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will be the first Government speaker during the debate on unemployment next Thursday.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Clearly, there cannot be an early debate on the Pakistan situation. Therefore, would my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made next week, especially regarding the question of international relief organisations and whether any progress has been made in making facilities available to them in Pakistan?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate that point. My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has made is clear that he is most anxious to keep the House fully informed. If a statement can usefully be made to the benefit of the House he will make one.

Mr. Atkinson

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision or comment about including the steel industry in the debate on unemployment, mainly because of the contradictory statements made by the Government and people representing the steel industry? As I understand it, the leaders of the steel industry have said that many of the redundancies will arise from the refusal of the Government to allow a price increase above 7 per cent. If that is the case, surely the Prime Minister has no right to suggest that many of the redundancies now occurring are the result of Labour's original rationalisation plan. Surely we should have a separation of these topics so that we can debate that aspect of the problem much more thoroughly than if it is taken in with the debate on unemployment.

Mr. Whitelaw

I can only repeat what I have said. Inevitably, in a debate on unemployment the recent announcement of redundancies in the steel industry is bound to have a part. I do not wish this to be taken as prejudging what may happen in future. I only mentioned that inevitably the immediate position of these particular redundancies—the reason for which Lord Melchett made clear yesterday—could form part of the debate on unemployment. I did not go further than that.

Mr. Money

Will my right hon. Friend give an opportunity to debate the arts in the near future?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will bear that in mind, but I cannot promise when.

Mr. Mayhew

Can the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on the far-reaching report of the committee of inquiry into Farleigh Hospital? Has he noted the Early Day Motion, signed by 170 hon. Members on both sides, calling on the Government and the local authorities to take urgent action for the better care and treatment of the mentally handicapped?

[That this House, aware of the widespread and acute suffering caused by mental disorder, welcomes the launching of the Mind Campaign by the National Association for Mental Health, with the support of many other voluntary organisations; and calls on the Government and local and other public authorities to support the objectives of the campaign, in particular by further increasing the provision of community care for mental sufferers.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise the importance of the subject and the hon. Gentleman's interest in it. I cannot promise an immediate debate. There are, of course, other means by which the subject can be raised. If I can find time for a debate, I will be pleased to do so.

Mr. James Johnson

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Early Day Motion No. 510, in the names of hon. Members on both sides, including mine, and particularly including those from fishing constituencies? If we enter the Common Market there will be redundancies in the fishing industry also, particularly in the coastal fisheries. Will he give time to debate this important matter?

[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.]

Mr. Whitelaw

The question of fisheries in the Common Market is a subject in the current negotiations. I cannot promise time for a debate in the immediate future, but when the full issue is discussed inevitably this is one of the subjects that will be raised then.

Mr. Rose

In view of the winding up of one of the industrial training boards announced by means of a Written Answer, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Employment to make a full statement to the House on the future of industrial training?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will report to my right hon. Friend what the hon. Gentleman has suggested. It is in accordance with precedent that my right hon. Friend's announcement was made by Written Answer on this occasion.

Mr. Fernyhough

Will the Secretary of State for the Environment be taking part in next Thursday's debate on unemployment? When we asked which Minister was responsible for the North-East, we were told that he would do that job. Since unemployment there, and particularly in my constituency, has risen to almost astronomical heights in the last three or four months, we would like to hear what the Secretary of State for the Environment, as the Minister responsible, is going to do about it.

Mr. Whitelaw

In response to what I believe would be the desire of the House, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will speak first and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will reply.

Mr. Lawson

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is about time he set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs if he is going to set one up at all?

Mr. Whitelaw

I understand that discussions to this end are currently proceeding through the usual channels.

Mr. Harper

In view of the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, with the consequent effect upon future oil supplies, will the right hon. Gentleman find time, if not next week, for a debate?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the importance of the subject and the relevance of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I could not offer time for a debate in the near future.

Mr. Leadbitter

Yesterday, I transferred my request under Standing Order No. 9 to my right hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee), who drew particular attention to the problem of Irlam Steel Works arising from the closure announcement. You ruled, Mr. Speaker, that the application for a debate could not be accepted for reasons which you were not obliged to give to the House. However, you added that there were other ways of dealing with this matter. I therefore ask the Leader of the House to reconsider the position he has taken, because my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn), said in his contribution: … may I appeal through you, Mr. Speaker, to the Leader of the House to give us an assurance that we will have opportunity for a debate in the near future? The Leader of the House said, in response to that: I would hope that by some changes which I may be able to make to meet this point of view I should be able to offer some satisfactory answer at business questions tomorrow."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1971; Vol. 815, c. 1181.] I appreciate how the usual channels have worked—

Mr. Mellish

Hear, hear.


—but, while I respect the usual channels and, of course, I respect the Ruling of the Chair, the Leader of the House gave a firm undertaking about a debate on steel. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he has not been as fair to the House as he intended to be yesterday. We are not at this juncture concerned about the Secretary of State's review. We want a debate on the state of the steel industry now. Will the Leader of the House be fair to the House and give an undertaking, as he promised yesterday—which we understood would be carried out—that we shall have an early debate on steel?

Mr. Whitelaw

I entirely accept the words which the hon. Gentleman has quoted, though I should like to check the matter in detail in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I believe that what I said to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House was that it would be possible to discuss through the usual channels how best these matters could be handled in the immediate future. That I did, and I am grateful for the expression of support, having myself occupied the right hon. Gentleman's position on the other side of the House for some time.

Mr. Mellish

Hear, hear.

Mr. Whitelaw

This was discussed, and I think that the arrangement which was made is reasonably satisfactory for the immediate future. I note entirely what the hon. Gentleman has said as regards the longer term, but I cannot make any promise as yet.