HC Deb 02 December 1971 vol 827 cc659-68
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week, and perhaps, if he is able to, give us an early intimation of the arrangements for the Christmas Recess?

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, 6TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.

Motions on the Anti-Dumping Duty (No. 5) Order and the Iron and Steel Regulations.

TUESDAY, 7TH DECEMBER—Supply (5th Allotted Day): A debate on Development Areas in England.

Second Reading of the National Insurance Regulations (Validation) Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 8TH DECEMBER—A debate on a Motion to take note of the White Paper on Public Expenditure to 1975–76 (Command No. 4829).

Motion relating to the Import Duties (Developing Countries) Order.

THURSDAY, 9TH DECEMBER—Supply (6th Allotted Day): Conclusion of the debate on the Public Expenditure White Paper.

At 10 o'clock the Chairman will put the Question on the Civil Vote on Account and the Winter Supplementaries.

FRIDAY, 10TH DECEMBER—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 13TH DECEMBER—Private Members' Motions will be considered until 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, Second Reading of the Employment Medical Advisory Service Bill.

Motions on the Rate Support Grant (Increase) Orders.

In response to the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition, it may be convenient for the House to know that it will be proposed that we should adjourn for Christmas on Wednesday, 22nd December, and resume on Monday, 17th January, 1972.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman, recalling the exchanges that we had last winter—not about Christmas, but about the debate on public expenditure, which last year was a one-day debate—will understand that we welcome the fact that it is to be a two-day debate this year again, as it was in January, 1970.

As the right hon. Gentleman has announced it as a Supply Day, will he confirm that this is purely a matter of parliamentary convenience and that the Opposition are not giving up a Supply Day but will recover the day that we have given to the right hon. Gentleman in due course and following negotiations through the usual channels?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition. He is perfectly correct about the arrangements for the debate on public expenditure. Obviously, I confirm that both days for this debate, as was requested by the House, should be in Government time. There are procedural reasons why it is right and helpful to the House to have it as a Supply Day on this occasion. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for agreeing to that. Of course I confirm that the Opposition will be owed a day at some future time, and that matter can be discussed in the future.

Mr. du Cann

Adverting to Wednesday's business, is my right hon. Friend aware that the Select Committee on Expenditure would very much like in future an opportunity to examine, and perhaps report to the House on, the White Paper on Expenditure before the debate takes place, if this proposal was thought to be for the convenience of the House as a whole? If, regrettably, but through nobody's fault, this is not possible this year, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether we could engage in discussions during 1972 to see whether such a process would be possible for that year.

Mr. Whitelaw

The procedure arranged was in response to the proposal, put forward originally by the Select Committee on Procedure, that there should be a two-day debate at a time divorced from the normal economic debates and the Budget, and suitably before Christmas. However, since then the Select Committee on Expenditure, of which my right hon. Friend is Chairman, has been formed, and, naturally, if that Committee wishes to take a different view than that previously thought to be for the convenience of the House I am prepared to have discussions with it on that basis.

Mr. Harold Wilson

We on our side feel that the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Du Cann) has raised a valid point, and we are proposing that the debate from this side should be opened by our senior representative on the Committee. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will consider this before deciding on the Government speakers. Perhaps he will consider whether we should not follow the procedure we have followed in different kinds of debates on expenditure whereby a senior ranking member of the Expenditure Committee on the Government side will have a special place in the debate, at either the opening or the closing.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. I am prepared to consider it. The only point I make from the Government's point of view now is that it is our White Paper and, therefore, Treasury Ministers may properly speak to it.

Sir F. Bennett

Last month the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs reported that there was a confused situation on the borders of East Pakistan. Since then the confusion seems to have been clarified, albeit rather disastrously. It appears that the armed forces of one Commonwealth country are actively engaged on the territory of another. Can we hope for an early statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Relations as to what, if any, British initiative can be taken in the United Nations or elsewhere to try to prevent this conflict from spreading even further?

Mr. Whitelaw

As my hon. Friend appreciates, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has undertaken to keep the House fully informed of this tragic and difficult situation as it unfolds, and he will certainly do so. I will call his attention to my hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Could we have a statement next week from the Secretary of State for the Environment on whether he intends to meet deputations of tenants accompanied by their Members of Parliament on the question of the doubling of rents proposed in the Housing Finance Bill? I ask this question because a vital parliamentary principle is being flouted in that it is a long-standing tradition of the House that a Minister will meet deputations accompanied by their Members of Parliament. The Secretary of State for the Environment has refused two, including one from the representatives of 250,000 London tenants. Yesterday he refused to receive four ladies from the Wythenshawe Estate of Manchester, accompanied by their Member of Parliament. We take very strong exception to this conduct.

Mr. Whitelaw

I will look into the matter and discuss it with my right hon. Friend. I would not like to be committed to the various assertions about rights which the hon. Gentleman has made, but I will look into the matter.

Mr. Ford

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a statement by the Government arising from the matters considered by the Commission headed by Lord Boyle of Handsworth?

Mr. Whitelaw

Early next week.

Mr. James Johnson

Will the right hon. Gentleman do me the courtesy of looking at Question No. 83—down for Written Answer—on the Order Paper today, which stands in my name? It asks whether the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will give the terms of the agreement reached about the island of Abu Musa in the Persian Gulf. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Iranian forces occupied the island before the Iranian Government reached that agreement? Is he further aware that the Iraqi Government have severed their relations with Britain and Iran? Why does not the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary make a statement about this? Has he any intention of doing so? Will the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to tell us what is happening?

Mr. Whitelaw

My right hon. Friend hopes to make a statement to the House early next week.

Mr. Richard

There have been rumours in the Press recently about the possible allocation of a fourth television channel. Will the right hon. Gentleman take note that we on this side would take strong exception to a decision being made on this very important matter before there was any public debate and before a debate in this House? Will he give an assurance on this point?

Mr. Whitelaw

I can give the hon. and learned Gentleman the assurance that no decision of any sort or kind has been taken on that matter. I will bear in mind what he has said.

Mr. Robert Taylor

Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to reconsider his decision not to allow the House to debate the Bolton Report? This exceptionally fine report affects very large sections of British industry, and many of us on this side would like to see all the recommendations implemented at the earliest possible opportunity—in particular, the recommendation relating to the Industrial Training Act, 1964.

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the value and importance of the report, and I agree that it has many valuable provisions in it. I cannot offer Government time for a debate before Christmas, but there are other opportunities which might be used in the House for raising the subject.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman, in deference to Motion 89 standing in my name and the names of many of my hon. Friends, give an assurance that a statement will be made, either by the Prime Minister or by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, about the rumours which are circulating, because this is causing a great deal of controversy in the regions, particularly those where unemployment is so heavy?

[That this House regrets the failure of the Prime Minister to announce whether the Government has decided on further immediate measures to deal with the present appalling level of unemployment, a failure which is the more disturbing because of the uncertainty created by the widespread and apparently officially inspired rumours that the Government is contemplating such measures.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I think he must await events.

Mr. Luce

Does my right hon. Friend propose to find time in the near future for a debate on the Green Paper on local government finance?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am afraid I can give no Government time before Christmas for it but I appreciate its value and will see what can be done.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

In view of the concern felt, particularly in Lancashire, about the grave state of the textile industry, could the right hon. Gentleman find time for an early debate on this very important topic?

Mr. Whitelaw

I realise the importance of the subject but I am afraid I could not give a promise of an early debate. But, again, there are other opportunities open to the House for raising the matter.

Dame Irene Ward

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has stated that he is having examined all the proposals that have been put forward for trying to deal with unemployment on the North-East Coast. As a number of Government Departments must be involved, can my right hon. Friend say whether we are going to be able to get answers to the proposals which have been made so that we shall know before the House rises for the recess what we may look forward to in the light of these suggestions? That would be very helpful to the North-East, and we are grateful to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for having taken so much trouble.

Mr. Whitelaw

I thank my hon. Friend for what she has said. I will see that it is brought to the notice of my right hon. Friends concerned.

Mr. John Mendelson

In some parts of the country, including south Yorkshire, further redundancies are occurring in the steel industry and there is urgent need to bring forward its expansion schemes. Will the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement about future plans in the steel industry before we rise for the Christmas Recess? In various parts of the country this is a very urgent matter, and the House should not adjourn for Christmas before it is discussed.

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any definite commitment but I will, of course, inform my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry of what he has said. I certainly note the importance of the matter.

Mr. Hastings

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his decision about the Bolton Report? Would he not agree that the contribution made by small businesses to the economy and the difficulties which they are currently suffering merit a full debate in the House, and that this Government in particular should provide time?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what my hon. Friend has said. I must, regretfully, say that I do not have Government time available before Christmas for that, but I shall bear in mind what he has said.

Mr. Alfred Morris

I noted the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). Is he aware of the disgraceful way in which hon. Members are being treated by the Minister for Housing and Construction? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that after I had waited 19 days for a reply to my personal and urgent request to that Minister to receive a deputation of Manchester people, to be accompanied by me, the right hon. Gentleman refused that request by means of a verbal message delivered within two days of the scheduled date of arrival of the deputation? That was a monstrous departure from the normal courtesies, decencies and conventions between colleagues in this House, of which the Leader of the House is so jealous. Will he make a statement next week, after making representations to his Ministerial colleague?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have already said that I shall investigate the matter put to me by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), and the hon. Gentleman would not expect me, in advance of my investigations, necessarily to accept what he has said. I have undertaken to investigate the matter. I could not undertake necessarily to make a statement myself, but I think it is reasonable for the House to accept that I shall look into the matters which have been put to me.

Mr. John Smith

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that earlier this year the Government published a White Paper dealing with the reform of local government in Scotland, and that before the Summer Recess the other place had an opportunity to debate the matter. Will he tell us when it will be possible for hon. Members from Scotland to discuss this important matter, as everybody appears to be being consulted except them?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. I cannot see an opportunity of providing Government time in the immediate future.

Mr. Skinner

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the result of the miners' ballot has been declared today, showing that 58馷8 per cent. of the 280,000 miners who voted are in favour of a strike? Out of the total electorate, 84 per cent. have voted in a secret ballot, a higher figure than in any General Election since the war. On the basis of that, will the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements for a coal debate as quickly as possible so that we on this side of the House, or some of us at least, can expose the full extent of the Government's interference in the National Coal Board's offer of only 7 per cent. in reply to a justified wage claim, which represents a 5 per cent. cut in real living standards?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must not make the sort of speech that he would make if the debate were allowed.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. In this delicate matter I do not think that it is for me to comment one way or the other, except to say that I cannot find time next week for a debate on the coal industry.

Mr. Latham

I want to raise with the Leader of the House what I hope he will recognise is a genuine House of Commons matter. When he alludes, as he does from time to time, and as he did today, to "the usual channels", is he referring to the use of the party machinery within the House? If he is, will he acknowledge that the Parliamentary Labour Party plays a very important part in that procedure, and presumably so also does the 1922 Committee to a lesser or equal extent?

Would the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, recognise that it is wrong in principle, if the usual channels are to function and decisions are to be taken in the name of back benchers, if those back benchers, by deliberate action of the Government, are deprived of the opportunity of attending meetings at which they may confirm or challenge recommendations made through the usual channels. [Laughter.] I imagine that the mirth is connected with my suggestion that there might be as much democracy in the 1922 Committee as there is in the Parliamentary Labour Party. That is for hon. Gentlemen opposite to decide.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is bad practice for the Government, with their majorities in Committees, to insist upon Committees meeting at a time which prevents the proper machinery of the House from operating? Will he accept that I am not concerned with whether this is an old practice or a new one, and that what I am asking him to agree is that it is a bad practice?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also acknowledge—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but that cannot arise on the business for next week. It is a matter for the usual channels which he has mentioned.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

We are not as tired now as we shall be, heaven help us, at Easter or Whitsun next—

Mr. Speaker

Order. How does that affect the business for next week?

Mr. Tuck

In those circumstances, I wonder whether the Leader of the House would consider taking a week off the Christmas Recess and giving it back to us at Easter or Whitsun next, when we shall be more tired than we are now? The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I made a similar suggestion last year. He took a week off at Christmas, but he did not add it on at Easter or Whitsun. In fact, he stole it.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Before my right hon. Friend answers the question asked by the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham), may I assure him that, unlike the position on the other side of the House, the relationship between the Chairman and back benchers of the 1922 Committee and the Chief Whip is excellent?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am not sure where I have reached, or where I am, but perhaps I may answer the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck). The Recess which I am proposing for Christmas is about normal, or perhaps rather shorter than usual. I am dealing with Christmas now, and I do not want to go very much further.

Mr. Latham

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you help me to understand your Ruling about the matter which I raised a few moments ago. I asked about the usual channels, and I was told to use them. Is the Leader of the House responsible, technically, or not, for the arrangement of the business of the House generally, including the Committees, or are Committees excluded from his province?

Mr. Speaker

Technically, the position is that the Leader of the House is dealing with business for next week, and any question which does not relate to business for next week is, strictly speaking, not in order. That is my Ruling, and that is why I restricted the hon. Member's question. Had the hon. Member been asking for a debate next week, or for a statement to be made next week, he would have been in order, but he was asking for the investigation of a problem. I think that that should take place through the usual channels, and so I rule.