HC Deb 29 July 1971 vol 822 cc782-91
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)

As the House already knows, the business for Monday, 2nd, Tuesday, 3rd, and Wednesday, 4th August, will be consideration of Lords Amendments to the Industrial Relations Bill.

Mr. Speaker, it may be necessary to ask the House to consider also Lords Amendments to other Bills. Subject to this and to the progress of business, I shall propose that the House should rise on Thursday, 5th August and return on Monday, 18th October.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Could the right hon. Gentleman say a little more about the arrangements for next Thursday? Since he has now announced that the House should adjourn next Thursday, which I believe will meet with bipartisan support, will he confirm the impression received from the Prime Minister a week ago that there will be a recall of the House if there is any substantial change in the position in Rhodesia? Secondly, recalling that about a year ago this week the Foreign Secretary made it clear that there would be no change in the position of arms to South Africa during the recess, will the right hon. Gentleman give a similar assurance that if there is any question of supplying arms to South Africa beyond what the House has debated and with which we do not agree the House will be recalled.

Mr. Whitelaw

On the first point, I of course confirm what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about Rhodesia.

In regard to the situation of arms to South Africa, if my recollection is right, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear that if anything was to be done in this regard an announcement would be made in the first place to Parliament.

As for the arrangements on Thursday of next week, I shall put down a Motion tomorrow for the approval of the House. If the House agrees, the House will meet at eleven o'clock next Thursday, take Questions until twelve o'clock, and adjourn at 5 p.m. I give notice—this is unusual, but I think it is fair in the circumstances—that I shall move that Motion tomorrow, but not the Motion for the Summer Adjournment, which I shall move on Thursday of next week.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that although what is proposed for next Thursday and the date for the debate on the Adjournment is unusual—but certainly not unprecedented since we ourselves did this a year or two ago—I suggest to my right hon. and hon. Friends that we should regard these arrangements as acceptable.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I regret that an exact announcement of the date of recess should have been so long delayed. I realise that it is of value to the House to make early announcements whenever possible.

Mr. Turton

Has my right hon. Friend noticed Early Day Motion No. 650? If there are sufficient hon. Members willing to sacrifice part of the recess in order to undertake this important work, will he consider, after consultation through the usual channels, appointing this Select Committee next week?

[That a Select Committee be appointed to examine the evidence upon which were founded the conclusions in the White Paper, United Kingdom and the European Communities; that the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to adjourn from place to place and to report from time to time, that the Committee have leave to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House; and that it be an instruction to the Committee to report before the House is called upon to give its approval of the White Paper.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I have noted that point. It is fair to point out that although some tasks are right to be undertaken by a Select Committee, others are more suitable for a descussion on the Floor of the House. Some ten days having been allowed for the debate on the Common Market on the Floor of the House I believe that it is the best place on which to argue these points of view.

Mr. Jay

Will the right hon. Gentleman be making a statement next week, now that there is a substantial division between the major parties on entry into the E.E.C., that he will revise his previous ill-advised statement on the misuse of public money for political propaganda?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. I have already made the position clear and do not intend to make another statement.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Would the Leader of the House make absolutely certain that before the House rises for the Summer Recess there is a clear statement on the future rôle and development of the Ulster Defence Regiment?

Mr. Whitelaw

I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will wish to keep the House informed of any development on Northern Ireland. I cannot undertake that my right hon. Friend will make a statement, but I know that he will wish to keep the House informed.

Mr. Shore

Will the right hon. Gentleman consult the Foreign Secretary to see whether we may have a further statement before the House rises on the problems of refugees, relief and security in the Bengal area?

Mr. Whitelaw

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be answering Questions on Monday of next week and this subject may then arise. I will call the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to his attention.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Would my right hon. Friend please not shut the door too definitively to the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) on Motion No. 650? Does he appreciate that the functions of a debate on the Floor of the House are complementary to a fact-finding ascertainment by a Select Committee?

Mr. Whitelaw

I made the position clear, as I saw it, about discussion on the Floor of the House. I am on record as believing that the baLance between Select Committees and discussion on the Floor of the House should be carefully preserved. I personally believe that this is a subject which can best be debated on the Floor of the House.

Mr. John Mendelson

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the statement by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill yesterday morning, on the right hon. Gentleman's behalf, that the Government have committed £647,550 to propaganda on entry into the Common Market on the terms presented, and that £191,000 of that money is devoted to the shortened version which has been distributed through the Post Office? In view of the widespread comment in the country about this matter, would he now seriously consider making the same sum —£191,000—available to the Opposition to produce a shortened version of the Opposition policy on this matter, to be followed by a longer version also to be distributed? If this is done at least those who take the contrary view may have their views brought to the notice of the electorate, with the same facilities which are given to both parties in a General Election for the distribution of election literature. Will he give a serious answer to this question?

Mr. Whitelaw

In one instance, the hon. Gentleman is incorrect. He suggests that my hon. Friend made a speech in the course of the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on my behalf. That is incorrect. My hon. Friend spoke on behalf of the Department responsible for the Vote then being discussed. I noted the hon. Gentleman's strictures upon me for not being present. Had it been my duty to be there, I should have been. In this case, it was not.

As for the second half of the hon. Gentleman's question, I have made the position clear before, and I have nothing further to add to what I said on that occasion.

Dame Joan Vickers

Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the findings of the inquiry into the Royal naval yacht race between Plymouth and Fowey will be known before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall look into that matter. I cannot give the assurance for which my hon. Friend asks, but I shall make inquiries.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there will be no criticism of him for not attending the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. We all understand his sense of shame at having to defend an indefensible action of the Government in this respect. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement on the occasion to which he has referred, consisting mainly of a quotation from a factory wall sheet, did not in any sense deal with the precedents which have been broken by the Government on this occasion? Is he aware that it is an outrage for the Government to use public money for the propagation of a controversial document? Will he go into the matter again and make a statement to the House next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have no sense of shame—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I have not. I do not regard it as an outrage. It was a perfectly proper action. I stand by what I said, and I have nothing further to add.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I listened to his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) with something less than the normal feeling of satisfaction that my right hon. Friend's replies normally give? Will my right hon. Friend look at this matter again, realising that an early decision in principle should be announced?

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly I shall call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to my hon. Friend's remarks.

Dr. Marshall

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Government intend to allow time for the remaining stages of the Television Licensing (Elderly Persons) Bill?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have made my position clear about providing Government time for Private Members' Bills. I have said that I cannot do so. I am afraid that I cannot do so on this occasion.

Mr. Fell

My right hon. Friend will recall that I asked whether he could consider lengthening the four-day debate if hon. Members who had been trying to get in had not succeeded. It is well known that many hon. Members were still hoping to speak when that debate ended. As the six-day debate will be the end of the entire discussion of the subject, and as we understand that there will be a three-line Whip imposed on this side of the House, can my right hon. Friend so arrange matters that any hon. Member who genuinely desires to speak on the House on the subject and who has not spoken on it already will be called? I hasten to add that I am not an inter- ested party, since I was fortunate enough to be called in the course of the four-day debate.

Mr. Whitelaw

To go quite as far as that would be difficult for any Leader of the House. I think that the Leader of the Opposition has said that the arrangements for the debate in October are generous. However, I shall discuss them further through the usual channels. I shall try to do the best that I can.

Mr. Bidwell

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the Lords Amendments to the Immigration Bill are likely to be before the House? Will it be on the last day before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Whitelaw

It will not be before the Summer Recess.

Mr. Marten

Reverting to the suggestion of setting up a Select Committee to consider the White Paper on the Common Market, will my right hon. Friend, before he closes the door, read through the whole debate to see how many questions raised in it went unanswered? Would not it be a pity if in the fullness of time the impression were formed that the White Paper would not stand up to examination by a Select Committee?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot pretend to have read all the debate, but I have read a large part of it. I cannot go any further than what I have said already about my view as to the best way of dealing with the matter.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Has the Leader of the House seen Early Day Motion No. 666, which he will appreciate represents the only way in which I can raise the subject with which it deals—[Interruption.] A matter like this cannot be raised by putting down a Question, because it makes allegations against the Chair. As it is the custom of the House to have an early debate when such a Motion is put on the Order Paper, and as the figures quoted in it come from an impartial source, will not the Leader of the House at least give an assurance that, if not next week, some action will be taken to see that what is complained of is not repeated when we come to the six-day debate in October? It is a statement of fact that of those hon. Members called 2 to 1 were in favour of the Motion. That, surely, is not the usual custom adopted in this House?

[That this House, understanding the difficulties of the occupant of the Chair in selecting speakers to participate in debates in such a manner as to show complete impartiality, observes that for generations it has been the custom to select one for the motion under discussion followed by one against, on an alternating basis, but regrets that this practice was not followed with regard to the four-day debate on the Common Market White Paper, as a reference to the Official Report shows that 38 were selected in favour but only 20 against.]

Mr. Whitelaw

It might be said that the hon. Gentleman has now spoken to his Motion. I am sure that the point has been noted. In any event, I could not give time for his Motion to be debated next week.

Mr. Wilkinson

In view of an Answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) on 27th July about airport development in the London area, will my right hon. Friend find time at the earliest opportunity for a debate on a national airports policy in the widest context, since these decisions affect not only London but the regions? Unless we have a debate, or at the least a White Paper, hon. Members cannot give the matter the full treatment that it deserves.

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate that my hon. Friend has raised an important point. I cannot offer time for such a debate before the Summer Recess, but I note what my hon. Friends says.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the recent announcement about large-scale redundancies in International Computers Limited? In view of the fact that this is in the key area of research and development, and in view of the fact that the Government have put a great deal of money behind the firm, will the right hon. Gentleman consider asking his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement about the situation next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall be only too happy to call my right hon. Friend's attention to what the hon. Lady has said. I shall investigate the position. I cannot guarantee that a statement will be made, but I shall call my right hon. Friend's attention to the hon. Lady's remarks.

Mr. Thorpe

Reverting to the question of Northern Ireland, is the Leader of the House aware that many of us would have appreciated a short debate, but in any event, would expect a statement from the Home Secretary? Secondly, while it will be the fervent hope of hon. Members in all parts of the House that there will be no deterioration of the situation in Northern Ireland, should this unhappily occur during the recess, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will have no hesitation about recalling hon. Members to deal with the situation?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. Again, I can only repeat that I shall call his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. As the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the provision for earlier meetings of the House during a recess under Standing Order No. 122 is always there. Consideration can always be given to it in the kind of situation to which he refers.

Mr. Callaghan

Reverting to the questions put to the right hon. Gentleman by the hon. Members for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) and Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) which elicited the reply that the right hon. Gentleman will convey these views to the Home Secretary, will he also convey to his right hon. Friend the view of right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House that, although we do not know what is going on behind the scenes, it would be a very serious matter if there were a re-creation in any form of a force which was disbanded two years ago? This might create a situation which I am sure that the Leader of the House would not want to see, and I know that he would not attempt to barter for votes. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that there are full consultations before any statement of this sort is made.

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not wish to follow the right hon. Gentleman in what he said. I have promised that everything that is said on the subject will be brought to the attention of the Home Secretary, and it will be.