HC Deb 15 July 1971 vol 821 cc721-33
Mr. Harold Wilson

In view of your comments, Mr. Speaker, as one whose golf drives never get on the fairway, but who, whether on the fairway or in the rough, was within five minutes of being able to resume his Prime Ministerial duties, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I should now like to 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)

The business for next week will be as follows :

MONDAY, 19TH JULY—Supply [29th Allotted Day]: The House will immediately be asked to pass all outstanding Votes.

There will be a debate to approve the White Paper FAIR DEAL FOR HOUSING, Command No. 4728.

Remaining stages of the Mineral Workings Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY, 20TH JULY—A debate on economic affairs.

Second Reading of the Prevention of Oil Pollution Bill [Lords] and of the Tribunals and Inquiries Bill [Lords], which are Consolidation Measures.

WEDNESDAY, 21ST JULY, THURSDAY, 22ND JULY, FRIDAY, 23RD JULY, and MONDAY, 26TH JULY—Motion to take note of the White Paper on the United Kingdom and the European Communities, Command No. 4715.

At the end on Wednesday, 21st, Orders on Purchase Tax, Housing Corporation Advances, Rating and Valuation and Sea Fisheries.

At the end on Thursday, 22nd, the remaining stages of the Prevention of Oil Pollution Bill [Lords] and the Tribunals and Inquiries Bill [Lords].

Mr. Harold Wilson

On Monday's business, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the debate on the Housing White Paper—which must be a matter in respect of which the Government should provide time—is taking place in Opposition time in accordance with the understanding that we should have a refund of that time on an appropriate future occasion?

Second, will he ask his right hon. Friend, in view of the concern expressed in the House about certain remarks that he made when answering questions about the White Paper, whether he will take the opportunity, in lieu of a personal statement, to make clear what he had in mind about the position of the previous Government, and to act in accordance with the proper proprieties of the House in this matter?

With regard to Tuesday's business on economic affairs, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the House may expect to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a statement on Monday which would, as it were, provide the basis for Tuesday's debate?

Mr. Whitelaw

I confirm what the right hon. Gentleman asked in his first question, that for the convenience of the arrangements the debate is taking place on an Opposition Supply Day in accordance with the usual arrangements which were frequently undertaken in the previous Parliament. We shall repay that day to the Opposition and therefore, technically, I think I can say that this debate, as I accept it should be, is taking place in Government time.

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's second question is that these matters can be raised during that debate. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's third question is "Yes. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement on Monday."

Mr. Burden

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the debate on codes of practice which was to have been held last night did not take place. This is a very important matter. Can my right hon. Friend say when the debate will take place, and how much time will be allowed for it?

Mr. Whitelaw

The debate will probably take place during the week after next, certainly before we rise for the Summer Recess. I shall consider the question of time.

Mr. Jay

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed Motion No. 648 which refers to the use of public money by the Government for the dissemination of partisan propaganda?

[That this House deplores the action of Her Majesty's Government in using public funds to finance, and the Post Office to distribute, a propaganda document entitled Britain and Europe, based on a White Paper which this House has yet to approve ; records that such behaviour is contrary to the customs and ethics of British democracy ; and desires that the document be withdrawn.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the use of taxpayers' money by the Government for this purpose is a disreputable practice which ought to be discontinued?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we all appreciate that such are the vagaries of Question Time that often important Questions are not reached, and in that sense there will be a lively sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast. East (Mr. McMaster)? Could he therefore undertake that next week the Government will give an indication of their reactions to the unhappily deteriorating situation in Northern Ireland and, above all, tell the House what is their thinking about the raising of a permanent battalion of the Ulster Defence Regiment?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall certainly call the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends concerned to what my hon. Friend has just said. I cannot give any commitment, but I shall look into the whole matter. I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said about the problem of getting an answer to the Question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster).

Mr. Stonehouse

Has the right hon. Gentleman observed that the Motion about genocide in East Bengal and the recognition of Bangla Desh has received the support of more than 210 right hon. and hon. Members, more than one-third of the House?

[That this House believes that the widespread murder of civilians and the atrocities on a massive scale by the Pakistan Army in East Bengal, contrary to the United Nations Convention on Genocide signed by Pakistan itself, confirms that the military Government of Pakistan has forfeited all rights to rule East Bengal, following its wanton refusal to accept the democratic will of the people expressed in the election of December 1970 ; therefore believes that the United Nations Security Council must be called urgently to consider the situation both as a threat to international peace and as a contravention of the Genocide Convention ; and further believes that until order is restored under United Nations supervision, the provisional Government of Bangla Desh should be recognised as the vehicle for the expression of self-determination by the people of East Bengal.]

Since the Motion was put down an official parliamentary group has been on tour in East Bengal. This group confirms that the atrocities continue, and that it would be unwise for the refugees to return. In view of the continuing genocide, is it not urgent that the Motion should be discussed and the matter referred to the United Nations?

Mr. Whitelaw

Without necessarily accepting some of the right hon. Gentleman's points, which are really not for me, I recognise the importance of this particular problem. However, I am afraid that, in present circumstances, I cannot find time for a debate on this Motion.

Mr. Iremonger

Might one day of the debates on the White Paper on the E.E.C. be devoted to Early Day Motion No. 636,

[That this House, recognising the existence of sincere and strongly held views on the question of British entry to the Common Market which cut across party lines, urges party leaders to avoid the damage to the high standing of Parliament and the strong and justifiable resentment of the electorate which would result from any attempt to impose a voting pattern not reflecting these conscientious differences ; and calls for a free vote on this momentous issue, fraught as it is with irrevocable consequences for the British people.]

and my Amendment to it, to leave out from 'House' to the end, and to add :

['notes with regret and surprise that experienced and distinguished Parliamentarians should suggest that the conscience and best judgement of honourable Members are capable of being imposed upon to the extent of altering their voting intentions on a matter of major and historic national importance ; reaffirms its recognition of the fact that all votes in this House are free, subject only to the inevitable conflicts of duty that beset honourable Members in every complex decision they have to make ; denies any suggestion that the classic methods of persuasion still surviving in socialist countries and among Irish guerillas, namely, murder, violence, blackmail and bribery have been attempted in this country since 1922 at the latest ; recognises that a Prime Minister who failed to indicate to the House in general and his supporters in particular the importance he attached to the central issue of his Government's policy would be doing less than his duty ; and will give its usual critical consideration to any guidance he gives when the time comes to vote on Great Britain's association with Europe'.]

Mr. Whitelaw

These are all matters which can be raised in that debate.

Mr. Michael Foot

Reverting to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), will the Leader of the House undertake to make a deeper study of this subject and to make a statement at the beginning of next week on it, because it raises important questions of principle as to whether or not a Government are entitled to use the taxpayers' money to disseminate what many of us believe to be a highly prejudiced account of proceedings on a White Paper which has not even been submitted to the House of Commons? Will he undertake to make a statement to the House next week indicating the precedents on which he is acting?

Mr. Whitelaw

I personally do not accept all that the hon. Gentleman said. I believe that this House and the country have asked for information on this matter, and that is exactly what they are getting.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Further to this Question, while all right hon. and hon. Members will be free to express their views in the "take note" debate which the right hon. Gentleman has announced, may I ask him to study the rules and conventions in this matter? Is he aware that the authorities responsible for advising Ministers on this question in the past advised the previous Government in two cases on which my memory is very clear —not necessarily controversial areas—that it was contrary to the rules for the Government to issue these popular versions at public expense in any case in which the House of Commons had not decided the principle? I believe that one of them related to social security and superannuation. Would he look into the rules and conventions, and see what advice was given to the previous Government—I am very happy to waive the rules so that he may be told what advice was given to us—and see whether, on this question of propriety, the rules are being followed?

Mr. Whitelaw

Of course I will certainly look into this matter. I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Lane

Could my right hon. Friend give us time soon to discuss the proposal that the October debate on the Common Market should be broadcast on the radio?

Mr. Whitelaw

As I told the House during business questions last week, the Service Committee considered this matter, having taken evidence from the B.B.C. The Services Committee, as will be found in a Report to be published today, decided by a majority against such a debate taking place. If there were a general wish in the House that this matter should be debated, in order to give effect to my comments last week that it was a matter for decision of the House, I would of course seek to find time, despite the Services Committee's recommendation.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that even those of us who have a committed position on Europe and are in favour of entry feel that there must be some cause for disquiet at taxpayers' money being used for propaganda in post offices on a highly controversial matter which has not yet been debated or discussed in the House? We would ask the Leader of the House to make a statement, having considered the authorities, very early next week.

Mr. Whitelaw

As I promised the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson), I will certainly look into this matter. I will go no further than that at the moment.

Mr. Milne

On a point of order. In view of the attitude and answers of the Leader of the House on this subject of the dissemination of propaganda by the Government over entry of the Common Market, may we seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on what protection the House has, since this propaganda is being spread despite the fact that neither the House nor the Government will have come to a decision on the question until next week's "take note" debate on the White Paper.

Hon. Members

Not even then.

Mr. Speaker

The Chair has many responsibilities, but they do not include responsibility for what the Government do. That is the Government's decision, and it must rest with them.

Mr. Cormack

Is it not a fact that the Leader of the Opposition himself congratulated the Government on making extra copies of the White Paper available to hon. Members? Is it not a logical extension of this that the shortened version should be made available to our constituents?

Mr. Whitelaw

Both the main White Paper and the shorter White Paper are, of course, statements of Government policy.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Since the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) seeks to extend the question which I thought it was fair to put to the right hon. Gentleman last week, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the whole House must be bound by the rules in this respect, whatever view any right hon. or hon. Gentleman takes of the merits? The House has not been asked to appropriate money for this purpose. No doubt it will be in due course. Is he aware that we were informed—drawing on my memory, I think it referred to a superannuation White Paper of the Government—that, if this were put out on the responsibility of the Government, Ministers or anyone such as their party who were prepared to pay would be surcharged for the expenditure?

Mr. Whitelaw

I said that I would take note of what the right hon. Gentleman said. I can only repeat what I said in answer to the previous question—these are statements of Government policy.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Further to earlier questions on Early Day Motion No. 648. If, on re-examining the matter over the weekend, the right hon. Gentleman feels unable to accede to our request in the manner suggested, would he undertake that equal facilities will be given to the spokesmen of the majority of the people of this country, so that their point of view can be put through post offices as well?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will go no further on this subject than what I have properly said to the Leader of the Opposition—that I will look into the matter.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Further to the question of the White Paper, would not my right hon. Friend agree that it is a recognised constitutional function of Government to inform—[Interruption.]— oh, yes, that is established by constitutional authority. Is it not a perfectly reasonable exercise of this function to publish factual information on Government policy, whether in full or abbreviated?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that I must simply repeat what I have said before—that both these White Papers are statements of Government policy. I have undertaken to the Leader of the Opposition that I will look into the matter.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

In view of the important White Paper on the reform of housing finance in Scotland, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that we will have a very early opportunity to discuss this important Measure either on the Floor of the House or in the Scottish Grand Committee?

Mr. Whitelaw

I of course accept the importance of this White Paper. I understand that there are problems about the Scottish Grand Committee, in that, if this were to be done before we rise for the summer, it would mean a Motion changing the Standing Orders of that Committee. That is what I am informed is the position, but of course I am prepared to look into it.

Mr. Ross

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all that is required is a Motion in the Government's name referring the White Paper to the Scottish Grand Committee and including the phrase "notwithstanding the relevant rule"? It is as simple as that.

Mr. Whitelaw

Of course, the final words, beginning "notwithstanding …", would mean that one would have to put down a particular Motion and secure a particular Resolution of the House, because that is what it is

Mr. Galbraith

Is not the way around the problem to have a combined debate on Monday? Since the principle is exactly the same, can we not discuss Scottish and English housing together?

Mr. Whitelaw

As the Leader of the Opposition fairly said, Monday started as an Opposition Supply Day. We made the arrangements that we did because they asked on that day to debate the White Paper, Fair Deal for Housing, Cmnd. 4728. which is the English White Paper. That was their wish, and it was their Supply Day. I think that we have done what they asked for.

Mr. Lawson

With reference to Monday's business, and the right hon. Gentleman's persistence in bringing on the Mineral Workings Bill after 10 o'clock that day, will the Leader of the House tell us whether he looked at what the Minister in charge of the Bill in Committee said and how he stressed his assurances that he would do everything possible to ensure that the Bill came on at a time which would give proper opportunity for discussion of the matters which could not be discussed in Committee? I have raised this before. What has the Leader of the House done, and what is he doing about it?

Mr. Whitelaw

I looked into this. I do not think that my hon. Friend's assurances went quite as far as that. I feel that it is reasonable that the matter should be taken at 10 o'clock, and I should like to try to proceed and see how we get on.

Mr. Farr

Only a short space of parliamentary time is required for the final passage of the Television Licensing (Elderly Persons) Bill. Will my right hon. Friend provide that time?

Mr. Whitelaw

No, Sir. I am afraid that, in accordance with my practice regarding Private Members' Bills. I cannot accede to that request.

Mr. Milne

May I refer again to Motion No. 648 and your observations, Mr. Speaker, on the question of Government expenditure in the dissemination of propaganda about Government policy? Will the Leader of the House give an assurance, in view of the widespread anxiety in the House, that he will make a statement on this matter next week giving a clear lead on where Parliament's responsibility lies over the use of public money in this connection and in what way the money has been voted by Parliament for this exercise?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall confine myself to what I have already said to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Marten

Could my right hon Friend say whether copies of the so-called popular edition of the White Paper are being distributed through the Conservative Party machine and, if so, what are the economics of that? If he cannot tell us now, could he tell us next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

The Conservative Party machine is no responsibility of mine. As regards my hon. Friend's comments about a popular version, whatever he may think, it is a very popular version and a great many copies have been taken up.

Mr. Harold Wilson

We congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his dissociation from a most unpopular organisation. In his studies of the matter, which he very fairly offered to make, will he look into such matters as the White Paper of the previous Government on leasehold reform, which, I think, at the end of the day secured the support of the whole House, and other similar Papers, on which, because there had been no vote of the House, no popular version could be put in post offices?

Mr. Whitelaw

I undertook to the right hon. Gentleman that I should look into these matters. Reverting to my comment about the Conservative Central Office, may I say that I have some connection with that body but I am not personally responsible for its activities to Parliament.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Will my right hon. Friend appreciate that anxiety as to the constitutional propriety of what has been done is by no means confined to right hon. and hon. Members opposite, and will he give a full exposition of the precedents governing the matter when he makes his statement next week? Will he dissociate himself from the dangerous implications of the point of view advanced by, I regret to say, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), realising that there are grave constitutional dangers when the Government of the day take on that sort of rôle?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not wish to follow what my right hon. and learned Friend has said on this matter any further than I have done, save to say that I have not undertaken to make a statement next week. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] I have undertaken to look into the matter, and that I shall do.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Motion No. 646, on the withdrawal of Government support for the film industry. Will he provide an early oportunity to debate this matter, recognising, as I pointed out to him last week, that the Parliamentary Secretary has announced an important change in Government policy by Written Answer? This ought not to be allowed to happen, and the House ought to be given an early opportunity to debate such an important change.

[That this House, having noted the success of the National Film Finance Corporation since its inception by a Labour Government in 1949, its promotion of British films enabling British culture and British ideas to be spread around the world, its undoubted success in aiding Great Britain's export drive, and that without subsidy it has, during the last 20 years, helped to finance 750 British feature films plus hundreds of low cost productions, that all this was recognised by the previous Government and it was decided that the continued existence of the National Film Finance Corporation was a desirable measure of support for the film industry and concluded that it should be legislatively support for another 10 years, is shocked to learn that Her Majesty's Government is to reduce the effectiveness of the National Film Finance Corporation by curbing its loans from Government sources and is gradually to withdraw from the financing of films, has imposed upon the Corporation the stipulation that it must in future raise £3 million from private sources in order to qualify for a £1 million loan from the Government ; considers that this is a disastrous change which will have the effect of frustrating the production of British films with its consequent effects upon the employment of British talent, skills and studios, the sales of British films abroad and the gradual curtailment of the presentation overseas of the British way of life through the medium of British films ; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to reverse this mean and shortsighted policy, to restore the previous loan-making powers of the National Film Finance Corporation and to recognise that the public interest demands the maintenance of Government support for the British film industry through the National Film Finance Corporation.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I told the hon. Gentleman last week that I should look into this. I think it was a reasonable way of announcing the decision, and I stand by that at present.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman has batted off a large number of questions, to the satisfaction of the House. I think, until his last answer on the subject, by saying that he would look into the points raised by right hon. and hon. Members and myself. But surely he cannot now say that, when he has looked into it, he will just write a little note to himself and not tell the House about it. The implication is that he must make a statement. I may have misinterpreted the right hon. Gentleman's last observation to the effect that he would not make a statement. Will he now make quite clear that after he has looked into the matter, having been asked all these questions, he will make a statement to the House on what the rules are and whether they are being observed?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall certainly look into the matter. The reason why I said no more than that I would look into it is that I was not exactly sure who is the responsible Minister and who should make the statement. If I am that person, I shall, of course, make it. I undertake that there will be a statement. The right hon. Gentleman should not try to be unfair to me. I was not prepared to say that I would make it—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I warn to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say.

Mr. Whitelaw

I did not say that I would make a statement because I was not sure whether I was the proper person to make it. [Interruption.] It is no use hon. Members getting so excited about me. To adopt an analogy used earlier this afternoon, they may think that they have got me deep into the rough, but I have a good habit of coming out rather quickly from such positions.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman must not misunderstand us. As we have such an exciting Leader of the House, we may well on occasion get very excited about him. Will he take it that no one was suggesting that he himself must make a statement if it ought to be made by some other responsible Minister, but we were concerned by one answer which he gave, and, when he looks it up in HANSARD, he will see, I think, why we were anxious, lest it implied that there would be no statement. He has now made the position perfectly clear, and we are satisfied with it.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must proceed to warmer waters. Sir Alec Douglas-Home—statement on Malta.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the refusal of the Leader of the House to provide proper time for debate on Motion No. 646, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Mr. David Stoddart

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you advise me, a comparatively new Member, on how I can be called for a question on business? Many of us feel that our questions are just as important as those which are asked by some of the right hon. and hon. Members who are called week after week. Would you please advise me on how I can catch your eye?

Mr. Speaker

I am very willing to advise the hon. Gentleman. But perhaps it would be better if I advised him in private.

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