HC Deb 18 February 1971 vol 811 cc2129-35
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business by day and by night 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, 2ND FEBRUARY—Debate on a Motion to take note of the White Paper on Public Expenditure 1969–70 to 1974–75 (Command No. 4578).

Motion on the Television Act 1964 (Additional Payments) Order.

Second Reading of Mr. Speaker King's Retirement Bill.

TUESDAY, 23RD FEBRUARY, AND WEDNESDAY, 24TH FEBRUARY—Industrial Relations Bill: Committee stage (9th and 10th Allotted Days).

THURSDAY, 25TH FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Coal Industry Bill.

FRIDAY, 26TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 1ST MARCH and TUESDAY, 2ND MARCH—Debate on a Motion to approve the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1971 (Command No. 4592).

Mr. Harold Wilson

Would the right hon. Gentleman, having heard the exchanges in the House this afternoon, arrange for either the Secretary of State for Employment, who is normally responsible, or the Minister for the Civil Service, who is really responsible, to make a statement next week on this petty act affecting Professor Clegg so that the House may know all the facts and considerations, which we have not had this afternoon?

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman's attention having, I am sure, been drawn to the Motion which stands in my name and the names of some 200 of my hon. Friends, will he give further consideration to the case for appointing a Select Committee into the Rolls-Royce situation, in view of the fact that a Companies Act inquiry, to which the Prime Minister referred, could take anything from two to six years to report? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House is entitled to know the full facts on which the Government took their decision, which is becoming increasingly criticised both here and abroad? [That this House, recalling the Prime Minister's undertaking to deal directly with Parliament, the Press and the public, and recognising that Parliament, Press and public have not been given adequate information to reach conclusions about Her Majesty's Government's handling of the Rolls-Royce affair, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to move for the appointment of a Select Committee of this House to examine all aspects of Government relations with and decisions concerning Rolls-Royce, including the agreement to supply RB211 engines to Lockheed, and the events leading up to the appointment of an Official Receiver, and to report to this House.] Thirdly, as the right hon. Gentleman has no doubt studied what happened last Friday on the Employed Persons (Safety) Bill, when many of his hon. Friends, through their loquacious enthusiasm to support the Bill, prevented the House from reaching a decision on it——

Sir G. Nabarro

The Opposition did not have 100 hon. Members present.

Mr. Wilson

There was a full day's debate, but no decision.

As the right hon. Gentleman must be aware of the general desirability of the Bill and the fact that it is supported in all parts of the House, including by those who sought to talk it out, will be consider giving Government time so that this matter may make further progress?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall, of course, ensure that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Employment and the Prime Minister note what the right hon. Gentleman has said. [Interruption.] Naturally they have heard his remarks. If a statement needs to be made, one will be made; but I would not wish to make any commitment about whether or not one will be.

The answer to the second part of his supplementary question, about appointing a Select Committee into the Rolls-Royce matter, is that I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister said at Question Time on Tuesday.

As for the third part, concerning the Employed Persons (Safety) Bill, I understand that the position was put forward by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary quite clearly; that the Government recognise the importance of and need for legislation in this sphere, that it was thought right to await the very important report of the Committee on this subject under Lord Robens, and that the Government had committed themselves to legislate thereafter. I would have thought that that was the right decision.

As for giving Government time for Private Members' Bills, I can only repeat what I have said before, which is that although I recognise that there may be very exceptional cases when this may be desirable, in general terms I wish to stick to the principle that the Government do not give time to Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Hastings

In view of the forthcoming two-day debate in another place on the Roskill Report, when is this matter likely to come up in this House? Would my right hon. Friend agree that two days would be appropriate here as well, in view of the great anxiety that now exists over this matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that the debate will take place before Easter. I hope to bring it on as soon as I possibly can, but I am afraid that I must restrict it to one day.

Mr. McBride

In view of the economic and employment problems of Wales, may we expect a day soon on which to debate Welsh affairs?

Mr. Whitelaw

I can add nothing to what I said last week to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas).

Mr. Neave

Has my right hon. Friend further considered the strong representations made to him by the Select Committee on Science and Technology about the need for a debate on its Report on research and development in defence? Is this not a crucial issue long overdue for debate?

Mr. Whitelaw

I fully appreciate the importance of the subject and the request for a debate. There may well be an opportunity for this one to be debated when Select Committee Reports are debated. I could not give a commitment as to time at this stage.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I remind the right hon. Gentleman of his remark last week about the reform of local government, when he said that there would be ample time to discuss both the White Papers. When shall we be able to discuss the Scottish White Paper? As there is a large measure of agreement, many of us are puzzled about why it should be a year late in relation to proposed legislation.

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that I said also last week that it would be right for right hon. and hon. Members to have time to study these White Papers. I think that that is what right hon. and hon. Members would wish. Thereafter, there will certainly be time for discussion of all the proposals. The proposals for future legislation were plainly set out in the White Paper.

Mr. Farr

When will the House have an opportunity to discuss the Second Report of the Select Committee on Procedure which was published about a year ago? My right hon. Friend knows that the Committee makes several useful recommendations regarding the length of Question Time. As Question Time is now a source of frustration to almost every hon. Member on both sides, may we hope for an early opportunity to debate those recommendations?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have undertaken in the past that I should bring forward some proposals, before Easter, about the future of Question Time. That will give the House an opportunity to consider them and, if appropriate, accept them. There would then be a chance to bring them in after Easter. I stand by the undertaking that an opportunity will be given to consider any proposals which I may bring forward arising from that Report.

Mr. C. Pannell

Will the Leader of the House think again about the request to set up a Select Committee on the Rolls-Royce affair and consult the Prime Minister about it? He will recall that, when the news broke, there was for three days or so a great deal of puzzlement among hon. Members. As the matter calls for a great deal of assimilation of all the facts and factors involved, would it not be far better if a Committee of hon. Members, with their various viewpoints—there is a wide spectrum of nonpolitical considerations here—inquired into the matter? Would not a Select Committee be the best and most satisfying method for the House to take to consider the matter? I think that that is the view of a great many hon. Members.

Mr. Whitelaw

I can only repeat that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made perfectly clear on Tuesday that there would be a Department of Trade inquiry and that he believed that that was the right way to proceed.

Mr. William Clark

As only one day can be allowed for the debate on the Roskill Report, will my right hon. Friend consider suspending the Ten o'clock rule so that more hon. Members may have an opportunity to speak on this important matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall not commit myself at this stage.

Mr. Cant

Reverting to the question of local government, and the right hon. Government's remark about the need to study the documents, will he take it that the City County District of Stoke-on-Trent required only five minutes to register its instant reaction, which was one of complete outrage? Is it not important that this vast subject should be brought before the House for debate at a very early date?

Mr. Whitelaw

Whatever may be some of the reactions, favourable and unfavourable, from different local authorities, I still think it right to give time for consideration of these important and far-reaching documents before they are debated in the House.

Mr. Onslow

When taking into account the pressures being put upon him for a Select Committee to inquire into Rolls-Royce, will my right hon. Friend not forget the grave personal injustice which resulted from the P.A.C. inquiry into the affairs of Bristol-Siddeley?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that I should be wise to confine myself to what I have already said, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made perfectly clear that the Government's view is that the right way to proceed in the matter is through the Department of Trade inquiry.

Mr. Harold Wilson

But does not the Leader of the House realise that a Department of Trade Inquiry is limited by the Companies Act to actions committed by the company in relation to its shareholders? The House has not been told of the considerations before the Government, the figures and facts involved, obviously very serious, which the Government had to face. We have not been able to form any view on whether the Government took the right or the wrong decision, having regard to the wider considerations affecting the matter. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, although the Public Accounts Committee could look into it in a year or two's time, it still would not bring before the House aspects concerning the Government's responsibility and the facts connected therewith, on which, I am sure, the Government would be prepared to defend their case, although they seem to make a very poor fist of it every time they try from that Box.

Mr. Whitelaw

There have been opportunities for debate in the House. I shall not at this stage, or indeed, in the future, go further than what I have made perfectly clear in my previous answers.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is being authoritatively stated outside the House that the Government's new immigration Bill is to be published next Tuesday? May the House be told the facts?

Mr. Whitelaw

No day has yet been fixed for that Bill to be introduced, but it will be introduced very soon, probably next week.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will not the right hon. Gentleman consider extending the time for the debate on Monday on the White Paper on Public Expenditure, as we should normally have two days? Second, would he welcome, or could he stop, an existing Select Committee itself investigating Rolls-Royce?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the first point, no; I think that we shall stick to the ordinary time for Monday's debate. As to the second point, what Select Committees inquire into is entirely a matter for them in accordance with their terms of reference.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Can the Leader of the House say when we may expect the statement on the Annual Farm Price Review, as the farmers are anxiously awaiting details of the bonanza which they have been led to expect?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot at this stage say when that statement will be made.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.