HC Deb 04 March 1971 vol 812 cc1898-905
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)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY, 8TH MARCH—Second Reading of the Immigration Bill.

Motion on the Provision of Milk and Meals (Amendment) Regulations.

Motion to implement the recommendations of the Select Committee on Standing Orders (Revision).

TUESDAY, 9TH MARCH—Remaining stages of the Industry Bill and of the Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 10TH MARCH—Remaining stages of the Highways Bill and of the Fire Precautions Bill.

THURSDAY, 11TH MARCH—Supply [12th Allotted Day]: Army Estimates, 1971–72, Vote A.

Motion on the Apple and Pear Development Council (Amendment) Order.

FRIDAY, 12TH MARCH—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 15TH MARCH—Industrial Relations Bill: Report stage (1st Allotted Day).

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the concern both in the House and far more widely about the statements made by members of the Government regarding Rolls-Royce, which are widely regarded as having, whether intentionally or not—in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I should say unintentionally—misled the House. [Interruption.] The House has, nevertheless, been misled. Will the Leader of the House undertake therefore to lay on the Table all the communications made by Ministers in their discussions with the City and with Rolls-Royce, all the statements made in the House by them and the private corrections of those statements made in letters to hon. Members which they then refused to make public in the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Business question."] I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to do this next week. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] Will the Leader of the House undertake to do that, and, further, since it is clear that—[HON. MEM- BERS: "Too long."] It will be longer still on Rolls-Royce if we do not get the truth from the Government.

Further, as a Board of Trade inquiry, which can inquire only into the actions of the company, is inadequate, will the Leader of the House move, as part of next week's business, to set up, a Select Committee to inquire into all the actions of the Government in relation to Rolls-Royce?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not accept that premise on which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition bases his question. I cannot accept the proposition for placing all these documents before the House, as he suggests; nor have I anything to add on the question of a Select Committee to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier on. What I can tell the House is that the Government will publish a White Paper on Rolls-Royce. Its timing and content will, naturally, depend upon the course of the current negotiations.

Sir G. Nabarro

Does my right hon. Friend recall that last week I asked him to flush out the usual channels with a view to arranging that the Writs for five outstanding by-elections should be moved at an early date? Does he recall, also, that the silly suggestion was made that this could not be done because of the postal strike? As the postal strike is now coming to an end, may we be assured that these seats will not be left empty for up to nine months, as was the poor habit of the former Government?

Mr. Whitelaw

I recall my hon. Friend's question last week. I recall, also, the answer which I then gave him, that, in common with my predecessors and Leader of the House, I have no responsibility in this matter.

Mr. Thorpe

With regard to Monday's business on the Immigration Bill, although we know that the Government are in some difficulty with their timetable, will the Leader of the House take it that there is opposition to the concept of taking the Committee stage in Standing Committee and that we shall wish to refer to that on Monday? Even if the Government will not change their mind about that—many of us hope that they will—will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be an announcement on Monday to the effect that the Standing Committee will be large enough to ensure that all the different points of view in the House are adequately expressed and represented?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's argument about the Government's programme, which I can prove to be incorrect. I have nothing to add to what I said about a Standing Committee in my answers last week. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, if it is decided by the House that the Bill should go to a Standing Committee, it will certainly be a large Committee.

Mr. Burden

Will my right hon. Friend keep under active review the possibility of finding time for a debate on the Little-wood Report?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate my hon. Friend's close concern on those matters and the importance of the question which he has put to me. I cannot offer time in the immediate future.

Mr. Carter

Could the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate next week on the subject of the bankruptcy of the Vehicle and General Assurance Company, so that, among other things. we could discuss whether the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry still supports the view, expressed to me in a letter last July by the President of the Board of Trade, that he would use his statutory powers to safeguard the interests of policy-holders?

Mr. Whitelaw

I could not promise time for a debate next week. What I can do is assure the hon. Gentleman that, as he has already made clear, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is closely looking into all the questions concerning this matter.

Sir G. de Freitas

Last week, the Leader of the House encouraged us to study the Report of the Royal Commission on Pollution. Now that many of us have completed our study, may we be told that he will find time for a debate in the next month or so?

Mr. Whitelaw

The right hon. Gentleman puts a fair and reasonable question, but "the next month or so" is a rather elastic phrase. I cannot give a promise for such a debate, but I shall keep the matter under consideration.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will the right hon. Gentleman say when the Second Reading of the Shipbuilding Industry Bill is to be taken, especially as we have been assured that there is to be a Ministerial statement made at the same time on the future of that industry?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot say at this stage when it will be taken.

Mr. Kaufman

Does the Order to be debated on Monday night relate to the increase in the cost of school meals? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman take it that the people of Manchester will regard as thoroughly unsatisfactory a debate lasting only one and a half hours on a Measure which is preventing 4,000 children in Manchester from continuing with school meals?

Mr. Whitelaw

Basically, the answer is that the Motion is a Prayer and that under our Standing Orders Prayers are allotted one and a half hours.

Dame Irene Ward

Reverting to the Shipbuilding Industry Bill tease, we keep being told that it is imminent or that it is about to be introduced, but for the Chamber of Shipping as well as for the shipbuilders it is most important that the Bill should be introduced without much further delay. Will my right hon. Friend persuade whoever he has got to persuade that those who are interested in this matter would like the Bill without further delay?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note the important point which my hon. Friend raises.

Mr. Lawson

Does the Leader of the House intend next week to set up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, and, if not, why not?

Mr. Whitelaw

No, Sir, Scottish Members seem to be fully engaged on legislation upstairs.

Mr. James Johnson

When can the right hon. Gentleman find 1½ hours to debate the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) (Amendment) Scheme, 1970? Has he solved his domestic imbroglio with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who seems to be in purdah on this matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that I responded correctly, as the House thought, last week, when I said that a Motion relating to a Scheme which had been objected to by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments was to be withdrawn from the House. My right hon. Friend decided that it was right to withdraw the Motion, and did so. I think that in answer to Questions he has said that he will consider a further Scheme and make a statement on it as soon as possible.

Mr. Dell

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement next week about the Government's intervention in the Harland and Wolff situation? Is he aware that a statement was made yesterday by way of Written Answer, and that it is totally unsatisfactory that this further departure from Government policy should be presented to the House in a way which prevents hon. Members from questioning the Secretary of State?

Mr. Whitelaw

I understand that this is basically a matter for the Northern Ireland Government. But I shall call my right hon. Friend's attention to what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Ginsburg

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on defence and research and the Government's observations thereon, which were published in the last Parliament and have still not been debated?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot promise time for a debate in the near future. I note the importance of the subject, and I will certainly look into the matter for the future thereafter.

Mr. Strauss

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us more encouraging information about the prospects of asking the House to implement the long overdue, 3½-year-old Select Committee on Privileges Report, which he has told us over and over again he hopes to bring before the House as soon as possible?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman any encouraging news as to exactly when that will be done. The previous Government took some time in considering it. I do not rival them yet, but I accept that I am beginning to do so. However, I still hope to do this in the near future.

Mr. Stallard

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the widespread public interest in the findings of the Committee that reported on the working of the Rent Act, the Francis Committee? When can the report be debated?

Mr. Whitelaw

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement on the matter next week.

Mr. William Rodgers

I welcome the promise of a White Paper on Rolls-Royce, but does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there are many matters on which we want replies which do not involve negotiations about the RB211? Will he therefore note that it would be quite unsatisfactory to sterilise debate on the matter in the House until the White Paper is published if it is not published next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

There is no question of the announcement of a White Paper sterilising debate or Questions in the House. I was simply making clear, in answer to the Motion put down and the request from the Leader of the Opposition, the Government's intention to publish a White Paper. I can go no further than that today.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that what does sterilise debate and meaningful questions is obscurantism about the facts in this case and the successive contradictions of the Minister responsible in the House and outside? Is he aware that all of us agree that while negotiations are going on with Lockheed nothing should be published in a White Paper which makes those all-important negotiations more difficult? But in so far as there were negotiations with Rolls-Royce and the City, the merchant banks, the Bank of England and others, surely he will agree that a White Paper on those documents could be issued without in any way prejudicing the negotiations?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have promised a White Paper on the Rolls-Royce position, and I shall stand by that promise.

Hon. Members


Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot say when it will be published. I made it clear that the timing and content will naturally depend on the course of current negotiations, and I do not necessarily mean only the negotiations with Lockheed. There are other negotiations in this situation, and all of them must be taken into account in the timing and content of the White Paper.

Mrs. Renée Short

In view of the decline in house-building all over the country and the serious position in the construction industry, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that after the Secretary of State for the Environment has made his statement about the Francis Committee next week there will be an opportunity for the House to debate the general housing situation as soon as possible?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not necessarily accept the hon. Lady's premise. I have promised that a statement will be made by my right hon. Friend on the Francis Committee next week. I cannot say when an opportunity for a wider debate will be found.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is growing concern in the steel constituencies about the absence of any Government statement on the future of the steel industry? As there is concern and there are rumours about possible sackings and discharges, will he represent to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that it would be very welcome if next week, or as soon as possible thereafter, he could give us an indication of the Government's policy on the future of the industry?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will naturally call my right hon. Friend's attention to what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that we should move on.