HC Deb 10 June 1971 vol 818 cc1244-50
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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 14TH JUNE—Second Reading of the Education (Milk) Bill.

Motion relating to the Welfare Foods Order.

TUESDAY, 15TH JUNE and WEDNESDAY, 16TH JUNE—Report stage of the Immigration Bill.

THURSDAY, 17TH JUNE—Third Reading of the Immigration Bill, which it is hoped to obtain by about 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, remaining stages of the Investment and Building Grants Bill and of the National Insurance Bill.

Motion on the Supplementary Benefit (Determination of Requirements) Regulations.

FRIDAY, 18TH JUNE—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 21ST JUNE—Supply (22nd Allotted Day): Debate on a topic to be announced later.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, with regard to the arrangements for the Immigration Bill, the Opposition are grateful for the fact that he and his right hon. Friends have shown some accommodation so that there can be a separate debate on the Third Reading of the Bill, instead of it being held at 4, 5 or 6 a.m.?

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that many weeks ago we were promised a statement on steel and that later we were promised that the statement would be made as soon as possible after the Recess. Can he tell us when the statement on the future of the steel industry is to be made. Will it be next week?

Third, without pressing the point unduly, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the complaint that I made to the Prime Minister this afternoon about the fact that answers were not given in the House yesterday but were given on the B.B.C. at lunch time, when hon. Members representing steel constituencies were not able to pursue the important issues raised.

Mr. Whitelaw

On the first point, I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I hope that the arrangement which has been made through the usual channels will be broadly acceptable to the House.

I cannot say exactly when the announcement about the future of the steel industry will be made, but I do not expect that it will be next week. What I can promise, as I believe it is right to do, is that as soon as it is made—and I shall inform the House as soon as I know when it will be made—I shall provide Government time for a debate. I have given that undertaking, and I stand by that obligation.

As to the third point, this is a problem which has affected all Governments from time to time. I accept at once that wherever it is possible we should make certain that statements are made to the House. Of course that is right, and no one is keener than I am to ensure that that is done.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

Will my right hon. Friend consider providing time for a debate on the White Paper on museum charges, as many people are distressed by the fact that these charges will be levied on old-age pensioners?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot promise such a debate next week.

Mr. Ashley

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time next week to debate the Early Day Motion asking for the experimental televising of the House of Commons?

[That this House favours the experimental televising of its proceedings on closed circuit for a period of six months.]

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot find time next week, can he give the House some idea of how many signatures additional to the 120 now to the Motion will induce him to change his mind?

Mr. Whitelaw

I could not offer time for a debate on that subject next week. I have, however, made it clear that I believe it right that the House should have an opportunity of making up its mind on this matter—which I have discovered to be a highly controversial one—at some suitable time. I still think that it is too early in the life of this Parliament to be certain that all those hon. Members who have recently joined the House have had time to consider all the aspects of the problem. As soon as I am satisfied of that, of course I shall be prepared to find time for such a debate.

Mr. Buck

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the 1970 report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis which has recently been published reveals matters—some disturbing, and some encouraging—which ought to be debated by the House before long?

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise the importance of that report. I could not offer Government time for such a debate in the near future, but I see that it would be valuable for the House to debate it on some future occasion.

Mr. Orme

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us a little more information on what he has agreed through the usual channels for next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday—about which we have not been informed—as to the times at which the debates will finish? What time will it finish on Thursday evening?

Mr. Whitelaw

What I have agreed through the usual channels is exactly what I have read out, and that is that there will be two days of Report on Tuesday and Wednesday and it is hoped to obtain the Third Reading by 7 p.m. on Thursday, which I think is a reasonable arrangement. As to the time when the debates will end, I would hope that they could, in view of the extra time allowed, finish at a reasonable hour as I think it would be to the general convenience of the House. We can discuss what is a reasonable hour, but I would have thought that a reasonable hour was a reasonable hour.

Dame Joan Vickers

Since the European Au-Pair Agreement is now open for signature and as five countries have already signed, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether the Government have any intention of signing it in the coming week?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will note what my hon. Friend says. I think it would be wise for me to say that I will make investigations on this subject with which my hon. Friend is closely concerned.

Mr. Shore

In view of the importance of the Prime Minister's statement earlier today and since we have now heard for the first time officially that the whole sterling system is to be phased out, with all the political and economic importance which attaches to that, and in view of the concomitant commitment to enter into an unspecified economic and monetary union with the Six, will the right hon. Gentleman consider seriously making time available for a full debate, giving us the chance to probe these decisions?

Mr. Whitelaw

It would be wrong for me in any answer I give on business questions to say that I accepted the interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman has put on the statement made by my right hon. Friend. At first sight I do not think that I do. I could not offer time for such a debate next week, but all these matters can, of course, be carefully considered.

Mr. Crouch

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am surprised that he has not announced any time for discussion of the report of the Select Committee on the services of the House of Commons, concerning the Resolution passed on 9th March regarding the installation of television annunciators in this House? I know that my right hon. Friend replied to this matter two days ago, but I would have thought that he would have felt it necessary for the House to have at least some time to consider changes of this sort.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am sorry if I have made a mistake, but I did not feel that such a comparatively small innovation was one which hon. Members would wish to debate. Since this was done and since it was raised by my hon. Friend I have had numerous messages from various quarters to the effect that the annunciators are appreciated by those concerned, both in the Strangers Gallery and in the Press Gallery, although, of course, naturally everyone there knows who we are and what is going on. Nevertheless, I suspect that the annunciators might be of some value there too. I think that they are generally fairly reasonable and do not intrude upon the House or the aesthetic appearance of the Chamber to any extent. I hope that the House will feel that they are a useful innovation. If after a trial period they are not popular, then they can be changed.

Mr. McBride

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in HANSARD today it is intimated that the Bristol Corporation (West Dock) Bill [Lords] will be debated in the House on Tuesday next? I failed to hear any statement about time being allotted for this debate. It is a matter of importance to those of us who represent constituencies in South Wales and we should know when this is being debated. Can he say when this debate is to be held?

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly not next Tuesday.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

On the subject of the annunciators, while I agree with my right hon. Friend as to their unobtrusive nature, is he satisfied that their siting and superficial area is sufficient to enable them to discharge their function?

Mr. Whitelaw

Like all matters, this was something of a compromise. If we were to make certain that everyone in both Galleries was able to read them fully they would have had to be rather larger than they are. On the other hand, it was felt that if they were larger they might intrude on the Chamber. This was the compromise which I think is a reasonable one.

Mr. Concannon

Would the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made next week by the Prime Minister so as to inform, not only hon. Members but the housewives of the country, which of those promises he made a year ago were meant to be taken seriously and which were not?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that matter has already been adequately dealt with.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider making time available each week for the Minister of Agriculture to make a statement advising the House which of the Prime Minister's answers should be taken as being facetious and which should be taken as being disingenuous?

Mr. Whitelaw

I repeat what I said before: I believe that this matter has been very adequately dealt with already.

Mr. Kaufman

As the right hon. Gentleman has told the House that newer hon. Members require at least a year in which to make up their minds about the comparatively minor question of whether the House should be televised, can he say how many years we will be given to think over the Common Market White Paper before we are asked to reach a decision?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not think there is any comparison between those two matters. All I would say about televising the House is that I thought that on this matter I was carrying out what I felt to be the general wish of the House. If it is proved at any time that I am not and that the House wishes to come to a decision earlier, I am in this matter wholly in the hands of the House.