HC Deb 11 February 1971 vol 811 cc797-806
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, 15TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill.

TUESDAY, 16TH FEBRUARY and WEDNESDAY, 17TH FEBRUARY—Industrial Relations Bill: Committee stage (7th and 8th Allotted Days).

At the end on Tuesday—remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund Bill.

THURSDAY, 18TH FEBRUARY—There will be a debate on an Opposition censure Motion relating to prices, unemployment and the industrial situation.

FRIDAY, 19TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 22ND FEBRUARY—Debate on a Motion to take note of the White Paper on Public Expenditure 1969–70 to 1974–75 (Command No. 4578).

Mr. Harold Wilson

With regard to what he has said about the debate a week on Monday, it is clear that the Government have decided that they will give only one day for the White Paper on public expenditure. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if we accept that we do so under protest, but understanding, as I think the right hon. Gentleman said, that in his view there are special reasons this year why it should be a one-day debate, and that he proposes, if he is here next year, to adhere to the practice which we instituted of a two-day debate on the White Paper on Public Expenditure?

As I understand what the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Employment has just said, he hopes to make a statement on Monday on the Post Office dispute. I welcome that. We recognise that yesterday the right hon. Gentleman was not in a position in his statement on the power workers' dispute to say when he thought the two sides would get together. Can the right hon. Gentleman arrange on Monday, either in the same statement or in a separate one, to give the House an up-to-date account of the position of the power workers' dispute as well? Clearly we shall want, in the light of those two issues, to consider our further action, not least in relation to the censure Motion on Thursday.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the public expenditure debate. I made it clear to the House before that, as we had a two-day debate in the autumn, I could not promise the House a two-day debate on this occasion, but I am clearly on record, and I welcome the opportunity to put it on record again, as having given a clear commitment to have a two-day debate in all future years.

I would have done my best to have had a two-day debate this year, but the Opposition, very much within their rights, decided to put down a censure Motion for next Thursday, which my right hon. and hon. Friends are only too anxious to rebut at the earliest possible opportunity. In those circumstances, it will be a one-day debate this year, but I give the clear undertaking that it will be two days in future.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his last few words rather derogate from what we thought was a clear assurance? Is he aware that putting down a censure Motion is within the discretion of any Opposition at any time? If he is suggesting that we should have had a two-day debate if the Opposition had agreed to provide a Supply Day, that is not in accordance with the assurance which he has given. It is two days of Government time which I thought he had undertaken to provide for future years. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not say that two days are conditional on the Opposition—if the rôles of the two parties have not been reversed by then—giving a Supply Day for the purpose of a two-day debate. I thought that his assurance was that it would be two days of Government time, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make that clear.

Mr. Whitelaw

I have no wish to derogate from what I said. It was the position in the past, when the right hon. Gentleman was in power, that the Opposition of the day—and I was requested for it—gave a Supply Day, making a second day for the public expenditure debate, but lest there be any doubt, and in the interests of the House, I give the assurance that in future years there will be two days and they will be Government time.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Can my right hon. Friend say when the White Papers on the Reform of Local Government are likely to be laid?

Mr. Whitelaw

The White Papers on Local Government in England and Scotland and the Consultative Document on Wales will be published on Tuesday of next week, at 12 noon. I know that right hon. and hon. Members will wish to have time to study these detailed documents, and as there will be opportunities, which the Government will provide, for debate and discussion over a long period of time, I hope the House will agree that a statement should not be made on the day of publication.

Mr. Palmer

Is the right hon. Gentleman now in a position to provide time for a debate on the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology in the last Parliament on Defence Research?

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise the importance of this Report. I recognise, too, the value that was placed on it by interests outside the House. I could not guarantee to give time for such a debate in the near future, but it is one of those which can certainly be carefully considered for the future.

Mr. Emery

Will my right hon. Friend find time on Monday to enable him to transfer the Committee and remaining stages of the Rolls-Royce (Purchase) Bill which it is suggested should be taken after the Second Reading this evening? It will not have escaped my right hon. Friend's notice that there are likely to be Amend- ments to the Bill which, because of the procedure, cannot be handed in until the Bill has been read a Second Time, and we run into the situation, which was condemned by the Conservative Party when it was in Opposition, of having debated in the House Amendments which may or may not be roneoed, and which cannot be known by most hon. Members who are considering them. That is an unsatisfactory position.

Even accepting the great urgency of the matter, I believe that another place will not be dealing with this matter until next week. Could not this be dealt with as the first business on Monday instead of late tonight?

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise the importance of the point put forward by my hon. Friend. I also recognise, as I think all Governments have done for a long time, the undesirability of proceeding in this way in normal circumstances. However, I think that there are exceptional circumstances here. I think that it is in the national interest, and it must be judged if it is so, but I believe it to be, for the Bill, if the House feels able to do it, to go through all its stages today. That is why the Government are asking the House, in an axceptional case, to do it today.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, whatever our feelings about the handling of the Rolls-Royce question, we agree with what he has said about it being undesirable, in principle, to handle a Bill in this way, but in view of the urgency we feel it right that all its stages should be completed on this occasion? As for the difficulty in which the House is placed by the requirements of procedure, manuscript Amendments, and so on, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that hon. Members will have heard on the B.B.C. at lunchtime the terms of the Amendment with which the hon. Gentleman is concerned?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said about the procedure on this occasion and, like the right hon. Gentleman, I should like to make it clear how undesirable this is as a general practice. and that it can be justified only in very exceptional circumstances.

Mr. Crouch

I imagine that one of the most difficult tasks facing my right hon. Friend is that of finding time for the House to debate as soon as possible some of the urgent issues facing this country. Can he say whether he is considering finding time in the near future for a two-day debate on the Roskill Commission Report?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have given a clear undertaking that there will be a one-day debate on the Roskill Commission Report and that it will take place before Easter.

Mr. George Thomas

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in view of the worsening economic situation in Wales and the complete demoralisation of the Government in the Welsh Grand Committee, where they are defeated from time to time, there is considerable anger in Wales at the right hon. Gentleman's declining to give us time to debate Welsh affairs on the Floor of the House? Is he aware that there is a strong feeling that we are entitled to a better deal in this House?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that all I have done so far in answer to the right hon. Gentleman is to say that I could not find time in the immediate future for a debate in the House on Welsh affairs. I have never ruled out —"never" is a very unwise word—and I am not ruling out the possibility, at some stages, as there have been in the past, of debates on Wales in the House, but not next week. There are opportunities for debate in the Welsh Grand Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman is as well aware of these as I am.

Mr. Allason

As the business statement shows that there cannot be a debate on the Roskill Commission Report before the other place debates it, may we have an assurance that it will be debated in both Houses on the same day? It will be unsatisfactory to debate the Report here after it has been debated in the other place.

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot undertake that the Report will be debated here on the same day as it is debated in the other place. I do not really see much difficulty one way or the other as to which House happens to debate it first.

Mr. McNamara

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Statutory Instrument relating to the cut in the grant for fishing vessels has been delayed in the Statutory Instruments Committee? Can the right hon. Gentleman inform the House why this Statutory Instrument has been delayed? It is now five months since it was laid before the House, and many of my constituents who are engaged in the fishing industry are concerned about this issue. When can we hope to have it debated on the Floor of the House? What have the Government been up to? Have they been unconstitutional or otherwise?

Mr. Whitelaw

It has not been a question of the Government, so far as I can see. This Order is still with the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, and it is normal and usual to defer consideration in this House until it has left that Committee; but I will look into the question and find out why it is still there.

Mr. Richard

Can the right hon. Gentleman help us a little about the publication of the White Paper on the Government's proposals on commercial radio? He will know that there were rumours that this was to come out in November. Then there were rumours that it was coming in December. Then there were rumours that it was coming in January. Now one hears that it will be shortly before Easter. Can he tell us which year?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman exactly when the White Paper will be published. All I will say is that when the Government are ready to publish their proposals in the White Paper they will publish them.

Mr. Richard

Which year?

Mr. Whitelaw

In the very near future.

Mr. Braine

Turning back to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) about the Roskill Commission, is my right hon. Friend aware that the implications of this Report touch very closely upon what this House is supposed to represent—the interests of vast numbers of people and the expenditure of illimitable sums of money? In that event, would it not at least be proper for the subject to be discussed in this House at the same time as it is discussed in the House of Lords, or before, because it is this House which bears the ultimate responsibility for what is done?

Mr. Whitelaw

I fully accept what my hon. Friend says about the position of this House—as will everyone in it. I still, frankly, do not see any particular reason why it matters which House happens to debate this subject first.

Mr. Ashton

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why he is allowing the solicitors to have a pay increase on Monday, without the matter being debated by the House? Is he aware that there is a Statutory Instrument on conveyancing charges, which I and several of my hon. Friends have prayed against, which expires on Monday? Would it not follow custom and practice, when a Prayer has been laid, especially after two P.I.B. reports on this subject, that the House should debate it without this pay increase being allowed to go through?

Mr. Whitelaw

No Government of any party have ever undertaken to give time for all the Prayers which may be put on the Order Paper, and to that position I must stand.

Mr. Kilfedder

When shall we have a statement giving the results of the talks between the Northern Ireland Government and this Government about what will replace the development grants which Northern Ireland has had over the past years? Second, can my right hon. Friend promise a debate on Northern Ireland at an early date, so that we can discuss the general economic state of the Province, with a view to helping Northern Ireland?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am afraid that I could not promise time for a debate on Northern Ireland in the near future. However, I will certainly ensure that my hon. Friend's remarks are brought to the attention of my various right hon. Friends who are involved in matters in Northern Ireland—the Home Secretary and the Minister of State for Defence—and I know that they will wish to keep the House as fully informed as possible about the problems there.

Mr. Pavitt

In the light of the White Papers on Local Government, which are to be published next week, when shall we have a statement of Government policy on restructuring the National Health Service? Will this take the form of Green Paper Mark III, or will it be a White Paper, and will it be made very speedily after the local government White Paper?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer to this question today, but I will certainly see that his remarks are passed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I will speak to my right hon. Friend myself about it in order that I may be fully informed as to the answers to the questions which the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Dalyell

In view of the many attempts during the week to raise the issue of our responsibilities towards Laos and the American invasion, could the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement next week to state the Government's position clearly, since it looks at the moment as if there is unthinking support of the Americans?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made the position of this Government and their position as co-Chairman absolutely clear in answer to a Private Notice Question this week. I will, of course, draw the attention of my right hon. Friends to the hon. Member's remarks, and if a further statement will be helpful in the House, or if my right hon. Friend feels that there is something of which the House should be informed, I am sure that he would be most anxious to do so.

Mr. Skinner

Would the right hon. Gentleman rearrange his timetable in order to investigate why increasingly larger amounts of external mail are being delivered to this House, which is an unwarranted interference in an honest industrial dispute, and, to use his right hon. Friend's words, in order to show that he does not want to harden the views of the two sides? [Interruption.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I am sure that the hon. Member will realise that, through no fault of him or me, I did not hear his concluding remarks. I do not know anything—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not know anything—[Laughter.] If that pleases right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, I am happy. I do not know anything about what the hon. Gentleman has raised; I will look into the matter.

Sir G. Nabarro

Will my right hon. Friend remember that, a fortnight ago yesterday, he promised a statement from the Prime Minister on the new review bodies for the higher echelons of the public service, and their pay and conditions? Although of course we do not fall within that context, would he bear in mind that he has further promised a statement on the review body for Members of Parliament and their conditions of work? As all these matters have now been procrastinated over for nearly two years, could we have statements fairly soon, both from the Prime Minister and from the Leader of the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have made it clear that my right hon. Friend would make a statement on the review bodies as a whole. As for the reference of Ministers' and Members' salaries to one of the new review bodies when it is set up, I undertook, in answer to the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), that this would be done as soon as the review bodies concerned were set up. I did not know that I had undertaken to give a further statement. I thought that I undertook that as soon as they were set up this matter would be referred to them.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Can I assume that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that, for the last 14 days, he has been trying to get through on the nod the question of the pension of Mr. Speaker's predecessor? As he has been unsuccessful, I assume that he will eventually put down a suspension Motion. As old-aged pensioners generally, the power workers and the Post Office workers are vitally interested in this subject, will he assure me and the House that he will not put the suspension Motion down for Monday after the Consolidated Fund Bill, but that he will put it down at a reasonable time, so that hon. Members and the public who may be interested will be able to take note of this subject?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am afraid that I am not prepared to give the hon. Gentleman any assurance about this matter. I am still hoping that he might feel that the correct course, in all the circumstances, is to allow this Motion to go through, particularly as he knows very well that a Bill has to follow the Resolution. I should have thought that this was the obvious course for him.

Several Hon. Members

rose ——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am afraid that we must move on.