HC Deb 24 June 1971 vol 819 cc1594-604
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House if he will state the business 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, 28TH JUNE—A debate on an Opposition censure Motion on prices and unemployment.

Motion relating to the Grant-Aided Secondary Schools (Scotland) Grant (Amendment) Regulations.

TUESDAY, 29TH JUNE—Remaining stages of the Civil Aviation Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 30TH JUNE—A debate on steel, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Iron and Steel (Borrowing Powers) Order.

THURSDAY, 1ST JULY—Supply (25th Allotted day): There will be a debate on the Consultative Document on the National Health Service Reorganisation.

Motions on the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) Orders.

At Seven o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named Opposed Private Business for consideration.

FRIDAY, 2ND JULY—Second Reading of the Housing Bill and of the Hijacking Bill.

Remaining stages of the Medicines Bill and of the Criminal Damage Bill (Lords).

MONDAY, 5TH JULY—Progress on the Report stage of the Finance Bill.

Mr. Harold Wilson

In view of the concern which I understand was expressed earlier, may I express my apologies through the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to his colleagues for my lateness in arrival this afternoon, for a reason for which I think that the right hon. Gentleman will be glad to bear some of the responsibility, namely, the statement which is to be made to the House shortly by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? Statements normally reach the Opposition in time for them to be studied before questions have to be asked on them. This statement did not arrive—perhaps for very good reason—until 3.15 p.m. We always understand that this can happen. It has happened many times in the past. I hope that it will be under- stood that my failure to be here earlier did not arise from any discourtesy to the Prime Minister.

As to next week's business, first will the right hon. Gentleman say what plans he has for debating the Green Paper on the Health Service, in which there is considerable interest on this side of the House, recalling that in the past the Government have provided time to debate White Papers of this importance?

Second, has the right hon. Gentleman any more information than he had last week about time for debating the Consultative Document on Industrial Relations Practices?

Third, in view of next week's business, will the right hon. Gentleman look into the fact that increasingly Opposition Supply time is being eroded by Private Bills, that the number of half days now lost and, therefore, the total time lost is running at a very much higher figure than the average for the last six years, and that some of the Private Bills result from Government decisions, such as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board decision and others? Will the right hon. Gentleman enter into discussions and make a statement to the House and perhaps at a later stage refer the matter to the Select Committee on Procedure to ensure that Opposition rights are not eroded, because I am sure that is the last thing that he would want to do?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation. I appreciate the reasons for his absence, and I apologise to him and to his colleagues for the late arrival of the statement. I say to the House perfectly plainly that that is obviously the reason why the right hon. Gentleman was not able to be here earlier.

I note that the Opposition have chosen a Supply Day for a debate on the Green Paper on the National Health Service, and I am grateful for that. I equally note what the right hon. Gentleman says about past practices. No Government have been able always to find time to debate all such documents, and if they are sometimes debated in Supply time I think that that is very reasonable. I accept that the Opposition have a legitimate point in saying that they have chosen this for debate next Thursday.

I cannot say exactly when a debate will be possible on the Consultative Document. We have a very heavy programme of business from now until the Summer Recess. I am delighted to enter into discussions through the usual channels about when this debate might best take place.

I agree that there has been more Private Business recently. It is important that the House should consider the full position. When hon. Members oppose a Private Bill, the sponsors do everything possible to reach a compromise with the hon. Members concerned. If they fail, the Chairman of Ways and Means is obliged to put down the opposed Private Business, and he may in fact do so whatever day he likes. In practice he does his best to consult about a date. Under Standing Orders he is required to ensure that the business is allocated proportionately between Government and Opposition time. To my certain knowledge this happened in the last Parliament, and it is indeed what happens today.

As the right hon. Gentleman requests, I am of course prepared for the Select Committee on Procedure to consider the matter, but that is not a question for me. It is a question for that Committee. It is quite clear that such a consideration is within the Committee's terms of reference and, I should have thought, relevant to its present studies of the procedure of the House.

Mr. John Mendelson

As the Leader of the House has overall responsibility for all White Papers and other Government publications, will he ensure that when the White Paper on the Common Market negotiations is published it includes, not only the accounts given by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but all statements made by Professor Schumann as spokesman for the Six and all statements made by official spokesmen for the Commission in Brussels in the course of the negotiations, so that the House on this momentous occasion has at its disposal the fullest possible documentation, including such statements as that made by the spokesman of the Commission at the end of the discussions of the sugar producers that this is binding only on the Government of Great Britain?

Mr. Whitelaw

I should not like in answer to a question off the cuff to accept the hon. Gentleman's doctrine about my responsibilities. I should like to study the matter more carefully before accepting that document; I think that would be wise on my part. I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the White Paper. The White Paper will set out the position absolutely fully.

Mr. Michael Foot

In view of next Wednesday's debate on steel, will the Leader of the House say when and in what form a statement of Government policy will be issued on this subject?

Mr. Whitelaw

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will make a statement on Monday. As I promised previously, following that statement I have provided time for a debate in Government time on Wednesday.

Mr. Buchan

I had intended to raise in the form of an application under Standing Order No. 9 the question of the unprecedented rise in unemployment in Scotland in the month of June. However, in the interests of time, because of the statement that is about to be made, I forbore from doing so. I therefore wonder whether we can have from the right hon. Gentleman an assurance that the debate next Monday will be replied to by the Secretary of State for Scotland so that we can try to find an explanation for this incredible situation.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. He has made his point. However, I cannot give him the assurance which he seeks.

Mr. Mulley

Will the Leader of the House give consideration to arranging a debate on roads and road safety, in view of the great interest in this subject and in view of the important statement made by the Minister yesterday in the form of a Written Answer?

Will the right hon. Gentleman look into the practice of informing hon. Members by means of a Press statement in the Vote Office and in their post of what amounts to a Government White Paper? As this followed another statement outside the House by the Secretary of State last week about bridges, may we have an assurance that sometimes statements of public concern emanating from the Department of the Environment will be made in the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly. I want to make it clear to the House, as I did yesterday, that whatever my responsibilities may be as referred to by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson), clearly I have overall responsibility for ensuring that the business of the House is conducted in the interests of the House as a whole, and this means getting the right balance as to what statements should be made orally in the House and what should be made in written form. It must always be borne in mind that there are always claims—all Governments face this—for oral statements on some subjects, and several of them every day. If we conceded all of these, it would interfere with the proper business of the House.

However, I take the right hon. Gentleman's point. I cannot say when such a debate would take place. Statements will be made by the Department of the Environment in the House when the matters seems, both to the Department and to me, to be appropriate for oral statement.

Mr. Alfred Morris

May I take it that the writ for the Macclesfield by-election will be issued next week? If not, why not?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman knows—[Laughter.]—I am not quite sure why everyone laughs. Is it simply because I suggested that the hon. Gentleman knows? What I think that the hon. Gentleman knows must surely be in my mind and not necessarily in the minds of hon. Members.

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's substantive point, I can merely give the simple answer that that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and not for me.

Mr. Thorpe

Reverting to the question raised by the right hon. Member for Sheffield Park (Mr. Mulley). We accept that there is often detailed information which cannot be given by means of either oral or written statement but which must be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT. However, does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that it is a little embarrassing for hon. Members to be rung up by newspapers 24 hours before Written Answers are to be given, to be given all the information which the Answers contain, and to be asked to comment on matters of which no other right hon. or hon. Member has had any notice?

Mr. Whitelaw

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. That would be wrong. I will certainly see why it is happening.

Mr. Whitehead

Bearing in mind the important statement the House is about to hear and what the Prime Minister said last week about the need for informed debate on the Common Market to take place in the country, will the Leader of the House consider authorising the broadcasting on sound radio only of the whole debate to take note of the White Paper?

Mr. Whitelaw

These are matters which the Services Committee will be perfectly prepared to consider.

Mr. James Hamilton

In view of the many deputations meeting the Prime Minister, such as that from the Scottish Trades Union Council, the shop stewards at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and, today, Glasgow Corporation councillors and officials, may I have an assurance that the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House on the results of those deliberations and what he intends to do to meet the protestations made to him?

Mr. Whitelaw

My right hon. Friend naturally receives these deputations and deals with them. The question of a statement to the House is one for my right hon. Friend. I cannot give the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

Mr. Bob Brown

In view of the considerable anxieties in the country, particularly among members of youth committees and youth advisory committees, when may we have a debate on the future of the Youth Service?

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise that it is an extremely important matter and one in which the whole House is extremely interested. But I cannot promise when time for such a debate can be given.

Mr. Lawson

The right hon. Gentleman will have seen that there is a direct conflict between what the management of U.C.S. says was given to the Government and what the Government say they received. Each side seems to be calling the other liars. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry gives us a fuller statement of his position as he sees it some time next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

Without necessarily accepting what the hon. Gentleman says, I shall certainly call to the attention of my right hon. Friend what he says. I cannot guarantee that a further statement will be necessary. I do not believe at first sight that it is.

Mr. Lomas

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the last time we discussed the National Health Service, on the question of increased charges, we had about 2½ hours for debate? Does not he think that it is wrong that we should finish at seven o'clock next Thursday the debate on a very important document which many hon. Members wish to discuss? Will he reconsider the matter? We on this side are fully aware that hon. Members opposite do not want the National Health Service, but that is no reason why it should not be fully debated.

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman has committed himself to a number of mistakes. First, the previous debate to which he referred was on a number of Prayers. It would have been perfectly open to the Government to have those Prayers debated at the normal time for Prayers, after 10 o'clock. After discussion through the usual channels, the Government met the Opposition's request that there should be a longer debate and that it should take place earlier in the day. Therefore, it is a little unfair of the hon. Gentleman now to suggest that we did not go a long way to ensure that extra time earlier in the day was given for a debate.

As to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I acknowledged to the Leader of the Opposition that the Opposition had chosen the subject for their Supply day on Thursday. I wish that it were possible not to have the opposed Private Business, but that is not a matter for me. The Opposition understood fully when they chose this subject that it could be debated for only half a day, because it was their turn to give time to opposed Private Business.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The Leader of the House has pointed out that we provided Supply time. I hope that he will agree that this is not to be regarded as a precedent. In all previous cases Government time has been provided. It is only because we knew that because of the present legislative situation it was not possible for the Government to offer time that we have done this. We knew that there would be only half a day, but we wanted a day of Government time, and we expect to have it in future.

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I hope that in my original answer to him I was generous enough to recognise what he was doing. At this time of the year there are many debates that we all know we want before the House rises for the Summer Recess, and it is not only a question of legislative time but of deploying the time of the House to the best advantage. I do not regard the decision as being in any way a precedent, and I fully recognise the Government's obligations in these matters.

Mr. Douglas

We have had repeated promises from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about a statement of policy towards the shipbuilding industry. When will the statement be made? Can the right hon. Gentleman give an indication whether we shall have the opportunity to debate it in the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot say when the statement will be made, and therefore it would be premature for me to discuss the possibilities of debate if a statement is made. I am always prepared to discuss the possibilities of further debate through the usual channels.

Mr. Onslow

As most of the time next Friday will be spent on discussing the Housing Bill and there will be little time to discuss the Hijacking Bill, will my right hon. Friend consider referring the latter Bill to a Second Reading Committee?

Mr. Whitelaw

I hope that the House will manage to deal with both Bills next Friday. I think that this is one of those occasions when I should use the time-honoured phrase, "Let us see how we get on".

Mr. Arthur Lewis

A few weeks ago the Leader of the House said that he hoped that the Lord Boyle Committee would circulate Members. The circular letter has not yet been sent. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department told me in a Written Answer yesterday that Civil Servants who in October, 1964, were on the same salary scale as M.P.s are now getting £1,900 a year more than M.P.s, can the right hon. Gentleman make a statement next week telling me where I can send the information to Lord Boyle and when I am likely to receive the circular, because I have a lot of information I should like to submit to him?

Mr. Whitelaw

My promise will be fulfilled. The hon. Gentleman will very shortly receive the questionnaire. I expect that he will receive a letter from Lord Boyle at the same time telling him that if he cannot give all the information that he seeks to give in answer to a fairly lengthy questionnaire he will be able to write as much as he likes in addition to his answers to the questionnaire. Therefore, I think that all the matters he seeks to bring before the House now he will be perfectly be able to put before Lord Boyle and his Committee in writing.

Mr. Bidwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will facilitate a debate on the industrial relations code before the Industrial Relations Bill becomes law?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have promised that I will discuss the matter through the usual channels. In view of the very heavy business, I cannot give the positive assurance that the hon. Gentleman wishes, but I have undertaken that I will certainly discuss the whole timing through the usual channels.

Mr. Urwin

In view of the continuing deep concern about high unemployment in the development areas, will the right hon. Gentleman consider allowing Government time for further debate on the Government's regional policy, if not next week, certainly in the near future? Will he instruct the Ministers responsible in such a debate to apply themselves very seriously to the Government's policy on dispersal of Government offices, especially in view of the disregard of the needs and requirements of the development areas, as expressed in the decision this week to site the V.A.T. headquarters in Southend?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman has got in some of his points for the debate. I cannot give an undertaking that there will be any such debate before the Houses rises for the Summer Recess, because I must point out constantly that we have a great deal of important business which the whole House wishes to transact.

Mr. Ross

Does the Leader of the House appreciate that if the rates of unemployment prevailing in Scotland were prevailing in the rest of the country there would be today over 1,100,000 unemployed in the country? That being so, if he dare not allow the Secretary of State for Scotland to speak on the subject in Monday's debate, who is to deal with it? Can the right hon. Gentleman promise that a plan will be put forward by the Government urgently to deal with this serious matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

Whilst I accept that it is a serious matter, I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Government's speakers in the debate on Monday will become perfectly clear on Monday when they speak.