HC Deb 22 July 1971 vol 821 cc1681-9
Mr. Harold Wilson

Will the Leader of the House 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, 26TH JULY—Conclusion of the debate on the White Paper on the United Kingdom and the European Communities, Command No. 4715.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Sheriffs Courts (Scotland) Bill.

TUESDAY, 27TH JULY—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 28TH JULY—There will be a Motion supplementing the Order of the House of 25th January relating to the Industrial Relations Bill.

The Motion will propose that the Lords Amendments should be completed in five sittings, namely, Wednesday, 28th, Thursday, 29th July, and Monday, 2nd, Tuesday, 3rd and Wednesday, 4th August.

FRIDAY, 30TH JULY—Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill.

Consideration of Amendments to Bills which may be received from another place.

Motions relating to Codes of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock, Farm Capital Grant (Variation) Schemes, the Price Stability of Imported Products (Poultry Meat) Order and the Housing Subsidies (Representative Rates of Interest) Order, and the Medicines (Retail Pharmacists) Order.

Mr. Harold Wilson

First, will the Leader of the House confirm that under the new procedure of the House—of only a year or two's standing—it is Tuesday's Consolidated Fund Bill debate and not Friday's debate which allows hon. Members in all parts of the House—subject to any rules that you may lay down, Mr. Speaker, about the Ballot—to raise any matter within the jurisdiction of Government operations?

Secondly, with regard to the time table that the right hon. Gentleman has announced for the Industrial Relations Bill and the Motion that he has foreshadowed, is he aware that that will be the third stage of parliamentary proceedings on that Bill in this House in which there will be totally inadequate time for debating and voting on even the new thoughts of the Government since the last stage went through this House?

Thirdly, may I inform the right hon. Gentleman in relation to what he said at the conclusion of the debate on Monday—the debate that is now going on—that I, later this afternoon, shall seek the approval of the House to intervene for a second time in the debate—having spoken once already—in order that I may make a brief statement on the events between five minutes to ten and ten o'clock last night, with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the right hon. Gentleman's last point, I note what he says. Naturally the House will wish to hear what he has to say.

On his first point, I absolutely confirm what he says about the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill being the time when hon. Members can raise any subjects that they wish.

On his point about the Lords Amendments to the Industrial Relations Bill, it is fair to point out that as far as I have been able to check, the five days sittings for those Amendments to that Bill are considerably in excess of any time given for Lords Amendments in the whole history of Parliament. [Interruption.] I hear hon. Members shouting, "What about the Amendments?" I would advise them not to pursue that course too far. If we take the number of hours per Amendment we find that, again, an enormous amount of extra time was devoted to them—more than has been given to Amendments to practically any other Bill for a very long time.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the events of the last week, and particularly of last night, have not allayed the widespread disquiet about the deteriorating security circumstances in Northern Ireland? May we therefore expect, next week, a statement from the Government about their policy in this regard, especially in respect of the raising of a permanent battalion of the Ulster Defence Regiment?

Mr. Whitelaw

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has always wished to keep the House informed, as appropriate on the very difficult situation in Northern Ireland. There were Questions for him today. I know, however, that he will certainly consider whether any statement would be appropriate. Naturally, I could not promise one.

Mr. Ross

Is the Leader of the House aware that Scottish Members are very grateful for the action that he has taken to enable us to debate the Scottish Housing White Paper next week? May I trouble him further? Will he arrange for a leading member of the Government to make a statement on the deteriorating situation relating to unemployment in Scotland, which rose in July to the unprecedented figure of 134,500, and in that statement will he take the opportunity to reassure the people of Scotland that the Government will not worsen the situation by any decision in relation to U.C.S. which reduces the employment of men and resources in the yards on the Clyde?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for his first point. I am glad I have been able to help in that matter. As for his second point, those matters were debated in the economic debate, and the statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had considerable relevance to them. I note what the right hon. Member says. I could not promise a statement, but there are many ways in which these matters can be raised in the House.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Will my right hon. Friend look again at Early-Day Motion No. 636 which asks that he, as Leader of the House, should again consider with both main parties the question of a free vote in this House before a decision is taken? I am certain that outside the House the country is amazed at the fact that neither political party is committed to doing anything but to negotiate and therefore that when the time comes for a decision to be taken by the House it should be on a free vote in the interests of good Government and Parliament in this country.

[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.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has previously said. I should point out, in any event, that these are not matters for me in my capacity as Leader of the House.

Mr. David Steel

Will the right hon. Gentleman be more firm and specific on the question whether or not the House will have a chance to decide whether the October debate should be broadcast on sound radio? Is he aware that there was a clear understanding in the House that the House itself should have the opportunity to decide on this matter and not the Services Committee? Can he say whether, even after 10 o'clock on one day next week, he will allow the House to come to a decision?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have said in the past that if it is the general wish of the House to have such a debate I would provide time. Having said that, I will fulfil my undertaking. What surprised me was the fact that when I announced the results of the report of the Services Committee last week I received the unmistakable impression from the House that it did not desire such a debate. Therefore, I took the view that perhaps it did not desire such a debate. [Interruption.] I seem to be receiving somewhat the same impression now. Perhaps I may consider this matter through the usual channels, but it is a little difficult to proceed when the noises on all sides of me, in front and behind me, seem to indicate that it is not the general wish of the House.

Sir G. Nabarro

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in the earlier stages of the Industrial Relations Bill the usual channels got blocked up? In relation to this five-day debate and the timetable Motion that is to be tabled, has my right hon. Friend agreed these matters through the usual channels? In addition, can he now give us an assurance that there will not be a repetition of the disgraceful state of affairs that led to hon. Members having to spend all night walking through the Lobbies. Are we to have a timetable Motion enabling us to go home at midnight?

Mr. Whitelaw

Many of the matters that my hon. Friend raises can best be discussed when we reach the supplementary Motion. I do not think that he will find the Motion that I put forward wholly unsatisfactory. Of course, these matters are not agreed through the usual channels. I can speak from six years' experience as Opposition Chief Whip in saying that no channels have ever been asked, or could conceivably be expected, to agree to any time table Motion of any sort or kind. There is no question that they would. I am content to be judged by the simple proposition that I have allowed five days for the Lords Amendments. I am sorry to repeat it, but that is a great deal more time devoted to Lords Amendments than has been devoted to Lords Amendments to any Bill, as far I can find, in the whole history of Parliament.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Public Health Act (Amendment) Bill, dealing with provisions for the improvement of fire safety precautions, has now received an unopposed Second Reading and unopposed passage through Standing Committee? Will he respect this clear expression of Parliament's will and find time for its further consideration, even if it is after 10 o'clock, in the remaining stages of this Parliament, before we go into the recess?

Mr. Whitelaw

We have of course already had a Government Bill on fire precautions, which was, in the final event, welcomed by the House. As for Private Members' Bills, I have made it clear a number of times that I do not feel able to give Government time to them, and to that rule I must adhere.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Would my right hon. Friend clarify the position as to the request of the Leader of the Opposition in regard to this afternoon's proceedings? Is it to be a personal statement, which would not give rise to debate, or a further intervention in the debate? Having regard to the fact that many of us feel that we have spent an almost disproportionate amount of time of late listening to, looking at or reading the views of the right hon. Gentleman, would it be in order respectfully to ask that, whatever the nature of his contribution, it be short and succinct, so as to provide the maximum time for those right hon. and hon. Members who have always felt that this matter is one of deep and abiding principle?

Mr. Whitelaw

Naturally, Mr. Speaker, these are matters between you and the right hon. Gentleman. Of course it would have been open to him to make a personal statement. He has decided not to do so—it is his decision—and whether he intervenes in the debate and for how long is a matter between you and him and nothing to do with me.

Mr. Harold Wilson

If I can help the right hon. Gentleman, of course it is also a matter for the House, because one can speak twice only with leave of the House. Perhaps it would also help him and his right hon. and learned Friend if I were to say that, given leave of the House, I would expect the statement to be extremely brief—hardly any longer than the rather long question of the right hon. and learned Gentleman—[An HON. MEMBER : "As long as this one?"]—and that when it is made, of course, it will, unlike a personal statement, be open to any comment by the Chancellor of the Duchy or by other hon. Members.

Mr. Ashley

Since the Leader of the House knows about the strong feelings on both sides, is he now prepared to arrange for a debate about the growing and urgent need for the establishment of a broadcasting council?

Mr. Whitelaw

I know the feelings which have been expressed on this subject. I realise the importance of it, but I am afraid that I could not manage time for a debate before the House rises.

Mr. Fell

My right hon. Friend earlier talked about the records being established by the amount of time allotted to the Industrial Relations Bill. The Common Market debate has been allowed about as much time, taking into account these four days and the six days to be allotted in October. Should there still be a large number of back benchers wanting to speak by Monday, is there any chance of my right hon. Friend reconsidering the matter and allowing more days for this discussion next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

The number of days that we have alloted both for this debate and for the October one on Britain and the E.E.C. has been described by all sides of the House as a generous allocation. I believe that it is. Naturally, the number of right hon. and hon. Members who take part depends on how long those who are called take. The more who can speak, obviously, the better. I do not think that it would be reasonable to try to give more days.

Mr. George Thomas

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he gives very little time on the Floor of the House for discussion of Welsh matters? In view of the fact that we learned today that there are another 3,641 unemployed people in Wales, including Monmouth, and that we have now reached 4.6 per cent. unemployed, would he ensure that we have an opportunity to discuss this matter before the House rises?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that the arrangements for Questions for Welsh Members have in this Parliament been more generous than they were in the past. There have also been the debates in the Welsh Grand Committee. I note what he says. Of course he will be aware, as I am, that there are opportunities for raising these matters before the House rises, but I could not give a special time for a debate.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Returning to the Leader of the Opposition, is there any reason why he should not make a statement now, as he impugned the integrity of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy in a most disgraceful way?

Mr. Whitelaw

Perhaps I should say that the right hon. Gentleman has made his position clear. He could have made a personal statement. He has decided not to, in order that, if he is permitted by you, Mr. Speaker, and the House to say something during the debate, he should allow the opportunity for my right hon. and learned Friend to reply if he wishes. I think that that is what the Leader of the Opposition meant, and I believe that one takes note of that.

Mr. English

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I fully support him with regard to the question of broadcasting the Common Market debate? Is he aware that I say that although I raised the issue of broadcasting the proceedings of this House in the 1964 Parliament? I hope that he will wish to broadcast the House, but that he will do it as a matter of principle and not on one particular subject.

Mr. Whitelaw

I believe that I should simply note what the hon. Gentleman has said, knowing his interest in the subject.

Mr. McMaster

In view of the fact that the Questions on Northern Ireland were not reached today or last Thursday, may I press my right hon. Friend for some early statement by the Minister of State for Defence or by the Home Secretary, in view of the great anxiety of all sections of law-abiding people, both Catholic and Protestant, in Northern Ireland, at the increase in terrorist activities—the numbers of murders, arson and other outrages? May we have a statement before we rise?

Mr. Whilelaw

I have nothing to add at this stage to what I felt was my forthcoming answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen).