HC Deb 04 February 1971 vol 810 cc1915-22
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House to 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, 8TH FEBRUARY—Consideration of Private Members' Motions until Seven o'clock.

Afterwards, Second Reading of the Rating Bill.

Motions on the Iron Casting Industry (Scientific Research Levy) Order and on the Police Pensions Regulations.

TUESDAY, 9TH FEBRUARY, WEDNESDAY, 10TH FEBRUARY, and THURSDAY, 11TH FEBRUARY—Industrial Relations Bill: Committee stage (5th, 6th and 7th Allotted Days).

FRIDAY, 12TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 15TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill.

It may be convenient for me to inform the House that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget on Tuesday, 30th March.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the Leader of the House aware that, in view of the important statement which we gather the House is to have a little later this afternoon—not, as we would have hoped, by a senior member of the Cabinet, which would have been right in the circumstances —obviously questions on the business for next week must to some extent await this important statement and any change in business for which hon. Members in any part of the House may feel it right to ask?

Apart from asking the right hon. Gentleman a fairly minor matter—whether he will consider adding an hour for the Rating Bill on Monday night, because rather a short period is allowed for it—and apart also from asking whether the Secretary of State for Employment will make another statement to the House on Monday on the Post Office strike, may I ask whether, after the statement, he will agree to answer some questions about the Parliamentary consequences of the statement we are about to hear and that, if we put questions to him rather than to his right hon. Friend, he will answer them?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, the statement will be made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation Supply, who is the departmental Minister responsible. I should think that it was correct that the departmental Minister responsible should make the statement.

On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, I appreciate and accept that the statement which my right hon. Friend will make may very well have repercussions on next week's business. I think that it may be too early, immediately after the statement, for me to announce all the implications, but it may be right that there should be discussion on exactly how these should take place. Of course, if you, Mr. Speaker, thought it right that I should answer any question on business thereafter, naturally I should be prepared to do so. But that is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker.

Concerning the Rating Bill, yes, certainly, there will be an extra hour.

As for a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment on the Post Office strike, naturally I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. I will convey these views to my right hon. Friend, who I know is most anxious to keep the House as fully informed as possible.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether we can expect to have the debate on the public expenditure White Paper before the Budget?

Mr. Whitelaw

The debate will certainly be before the Budget, but I cannot today say when.

Mr. Loughlin

The right hon. Gentleman no doubt heard a few moments ago the great concern expressed in this House about the Post Office situation. In view of the serious repercussions which are now being felt in industry, as well as elsewhere, may I ask whether he will try to allow time next week for the House to discuss the Post Office strike?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that I have gone as far as it is right for me to go in answer to the Leader of the Opposition—that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will wish to keep the House as fully informed as possible. I cannot find time for a debate on the subject next week.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

In view of the interest which the Government have shown in encouraging the Arts, may I ask whether we can have a debate—[Interruption.] In view of the increased grant which the Government have made available to the Arts Council, may we have an early debate on the Arts?

Mr. Whitelaw

I certainly recognise my hon. Friend's considerable interest in these matters, and, indeed, his considerable greater knowledge than that of some of those who seemed to jeer at him. I cannot, however, offer a debate on that subject next week.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

When may we expect a statement, and preferably a debate, on the Official Secrets Act, which many hon. Members have felt for some time is in need of drastic reform?

Mr. Whitelaw

I certainly note the importance and, indeed, the topicality of the question which the hon. Gentleman has put to me. This is an important question which is being urgently considered by the Government. A statement will be made when that consideration is complete.

Mr. Kilfedder

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to Motion No. 391, standing in my name, which concerns criminal intimidation in Belfast?

[That this House takes note of an article by Simon Winchester, in "The Guardian" of Tuesday, 2nd February, describing acts of intimidation and physical violence committed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army upon citizens in the Falls, Anderstown and Ardoyne areas of Belfast; express its horror and disgust at the brutal and revolting nature of the crimes described; declares its unreserved support for the forces of law upon whom falls the duty of bringing those responsible to justice; and urges Her Majesty's Government, through its security forces, to afford the Royal Ulster Constabulary every assistance in this task.]

In view of the grave and sinister situation of criminal intimidation in a part of Belfast to which the Motion refers, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend will find time to debate this important matter, not in a few weeks' time, but at the earliest possible opportunity, because of the activities of members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, who are the bully boys in the area, who are attacking our troops going to the assistance of ordinary citizens?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what my hon. Friend has said. It would be wrong for me to get involved in the policy matters which my hon. Friend states. However, I realise the extreme importance of the Motion to the part of the world which my hon. Friend represents. I am afraid that I cannot provide time for a debate next week, but certainly the Government note the importance which my hon. Friend rightly attaches to this matter.

Mr. James Johnson

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we shall debate the Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Scheme, 1970? I gather that it has been held up by the Statutory Instruments Committee. Nevertheless, it was debated two days ago in the other Chamber. I understand that it is in the pipeline. Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly look down the pipe and tell us what vision he sees?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that it is always wise for me to confine myself to those areas where I have responsibility, not to another place where I have not. If it is with the Statutory Instruments Committee, that is why it has not come before this House. I will, however, look into what is happening. I cannot say when it will be posible to have the debate.

Mr. Hastings

Has my right hon. Friend any news about the debate on the Roskill Report? In particular, will it be before or after the debate in another place?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot say exactly when it will be, but it will not be next week.

Miss Lestor

Bearing in mind the intense interest and speculation by the Press and those interested in race relations on the proposed Immigration Bill which is to be introduced by the Government, may I ask the Leader of the House to use his influence on the Prime Minister and his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to issue a White Paper before the Bill is published so that full and free discussion may take place on this issue?

Mr. Whitelaw

When the Government are ready they will publish their Bill. I think that that is the right way of proceeding in this matter.

Mr. Robert Cooke

If the postal strike continues next week, may I ask my right hon. Friend to consider having a word with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services with a view to getting him to make a statement to help pensioners and others to draw their benefits, perhaps by having the warrants negotiable or cashable at branches of his Department?

Mr. Whitelaw

I certainly note the importance of what my hon. Friend puts before the House. My hon. Friend will also have heard the statement and the hope expressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment on this point. However. I certainly take note of what my hon. Friend says and, if necessary, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security will certainly consider the point. I will put it to my right hon. Friend and, without commitment of course, he will make a statement, if necessary.

Mr. Boyden

Did the Leader of the House notice yesterday at Question Time the long-windedness of Scottish Ministers in answering Questions? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as a result Question No. 35 to the Minister for the Civil Service was prevented from being answered? If the right hon. Gentleman cannot prevail upon his colleagues to be shorter in answering Questions there will be no chance of putting questions to the Minister for the Civil Service. Will the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, either bring the Question back to No. 25 or restrain his colleagues?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have grave doubts whether it is fair for the hon. Gentleman to apportion blame to my right hon. and hon. Friends the Scottish Ministers. I suspect that if there was delay it came largely from the long-windedness of Scottish Members on the other side of the House, which is not unknown.

Mr. Bob Brown

As the Northern Group of Labour Members had a deputation to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Environment at which we received a lot of non-answers, may I appeal to the Leader of the House, as a Northern Member, to provide time for a debate on the rapidly worsening and serious economic situation in the North of England?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not think that I would wish to follow the hon. Gentleman in some of his remarks about his interview with my right hon. Friend. I note the importance of the subject he has raised, but I cannot see my way to providing Government time for such a debate next week.

Mr. Greville Janner

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Early Day Motion No. 212 which stands in my name but which has now been signed by 237 hon. Members on both sides of the House, drawing attention to the unhappy plight of Jewish people in the Soviet Union?

[That this House deplores the refusal of the Soviet Government to permit Jews to leave the Soviet Union, in accordance with recognised human rights; its persecution of those Jews who wish to emigrate to Israel; and its refusal to permit Soviet Jews freely to practise their religion and to maintain their culture; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to use its best endeavours and influence to secure and ensure respect for these human rights.]

Bearing in mind the deep concern of hon. Members about this matter, will the right hon. Gentleman consider giving time to debate not only this Motion but also the basic human right of people of all religions to leave countries in which they are unhappy and feel themselves to be persecuted?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note the importance of the points made by the hon. Gentleman, and also the unexceptionable statement which followed, which I think will be accepted on both sides of the House. I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been concerned with this matter, as, indeed, has the whole House. I cannot offer time for a debate, but I will call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Marten

Following the question asked by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden), may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that the same problem occurs with a very important Minister, namely, the Lord President of the Council, who comes on at Question No. 35? Would it not be sensible—and perhaps my right hon. Friend could make an announcement about this next week—either for him to answer at Question No. 35, or at a quarter-past Three, as the Prime Minister does?

Mr. Whitelaw

I looked at the list of Questions addressed to various Ministers when we had the new roster and, for better or for worse, I found that I came right at the end of the list. I therefore did not feel justified in promoting myself, in view of my low place in the number of Questions addressed to me. It seems to me that I answer most of the Questions that are put to me on most days. If I am not doing so, we can look at the matter again, but I doubt whether the House would wish to promote me at the expense at some of my other colleagues.

Mr. William Edwards

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we have not had a debate on Welsh affairs during the life of this Parliament? Is he further aware that he has as Secretary of State for Wales a right hon. Gentleman who has understandably expressed a dislike for party politics since he became Chairman of the Tory Party and is unlikely to press for a debate? We have a situation of rising unemployment in Wales, and the Secretary of State has failed to look after the interests of that country. We want to bring home to the House the fact that there is a major problem in Wales, and we want to do it as soon as possible.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said about a debate on Wales. I cannot find the time for it next week or, indeed, in the near future, but I note the importance of the subject.