HC Deb 18 March 1971 vol 813 cc1649-58
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, 22ND MARCH, TUESDAY, 23RD MARCH, and WEDNESDAY, 24TH MARCH—Industrial Relations Bill: Completion of remaining stages (4th, 5th and 6th Allotted Days).

THURSDAY, 25TH MARCH—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

FRIDAY, 26TH MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 29TH MARCH—Second Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of a particular point which I would like him to consider, namely, that when the House comes to debate Statutory Instrument 340 on the National Health Service (Charges) Regulation, 1971, to which we shall be tabling a Prayer, it would not be for the convenience of the House if that debate were confined to one and a half hours at the end of the day. Will he endeavour to see that more time is provided for that debate? If he cannot answer this question now, will he undertake to give it his consideration?

In regard to Thursday's debate on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, which I understand is not the normal one but is a Measure designed to mop up Supplementary Estimates, while you, Mr. Speaker, will rule on what will and will not be in order in that debate, would it not be helpful to the Leader of the House if you were to indicate how far the House and individual constituency hon. Members will be permitted to go in debating this subject, since in general one can debate only the reasons for the increase? As one of the reasons is a new payment in respect of Rolls-Royce, could it be confirmed that on Second Reading we shall he able to debate Rolls-Royce?

Mr. Speaker

It might be convenient if I were to say now what I had intended to say later, which is that in the debate on Thursday, 25th March, on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, hon. Members may hand into my office by 9.30 on the morning of Wednesday, 24th March, their names and the topics which they wish to raise. The Ballot will be carried out as on the last occasion. Hon. Members should give their full name plus the topic. Hon. Members may hand in only their own names and topics.

The Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill includes the Defence Vote on Account for the financial year 1971–72, House of Commons Paper No. 234, certain Civil Supplementary Estimates for the current year set out in House of Commons Papers Nos. 232, 292, and 301, certain Defence Supplementary Estimates for the current year contained in House of Commons Paper No. 231 and excesses on the Civil Estimates for 1969–70 as set out in House of Commons Paper No. 313. It will be in order on Second Reading of the Bill to raise topics falling within the ambit of the expenditure proposed in these papers. I shall put out the result of the Ballot later on Wednesday, 24th March.

Mr. Whitelaw

I thank you for that announcement, Mr. Speaker, which will help me very much indeed.

The answer to the first point raised by the Leader of the Opposition is that of course I appreciate the importance of the subject and I am grateful for the way in which he raised it. I will do my best to meet the point he put. Perhaps I may have further discussions about it.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

May I renew with my right hon. Friend a request which has been made on several occasions, namely, that we should as soon as possible have a debate on the Report on Defence Research from the Select Committee on Science and Technology?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the point my hon. Friend puts. I am afraid I cannot see an opportunity to do so before Easter, but I have noted the importance of the subject.

Mr. George Thomas

Has the Leader of the House seen the Motion on the Order Paper dealing with the freedom of religious expression on the B.B.C.?

[That this House, believing that the free expression of religious views on current controversial issues is an essential part of our democratic way of life, deplores the surrender by the British Broadcasting Corporation to Government pressure following the religious broadcast made on 1st March by the Reverend Dr. Colin Morris; and strongly supports the Reverend Dr. Rupert Davies, President of the Methodist Conference, in his request for an inquiry into the extent to which limitations are placed on religious broadcasters.]

In view of the importance of ensuring that the Government are not able to decide who shall give religious broadcasts and what they shall say, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to provide an opportunity for a debate on this subject, because the treatment which Dr. Morris has received is monstrous?

Mr. Whitelaw

What it does with its programmes and what is in them is rightly and properly—the House has always recognised this to be so—within the jurisdiction of the B.B.C. [Interruption.] Wait a minute. I am coming to the rest of the question. That is the answer to the first part: that the B.B.C. is responsible for what is in its programmes. It is also responsible for taking decisions to maintain a proper political balance in those programmes. [Interruption.] I never noticed that the Labour Party was particularly slow in objecting to various parts of the B.B.C.'s programmes.

Mr. Braine

As British Railways has announced massive increases in rail fares, to take effect from 28th March, without giving an adequate explanation of why these increases are being levied on commuter lines which have never been subsidised, may I ask my right hon. Friend to arrange for the Minister of Transport to make a statement to the House next week or else to provide time for us to debate the matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note the importance of the matter which my hon. Friend raises, and I will see that the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Transport is drawn to his comments.

Mr. Edward Short

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the breakdown in the teachers' pay negotiations and the concern that is felt among all hon. Members about the present position? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State to make a statement to the House as soon as possible?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall be in touch with my right hon. Friend and will speak to her about the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. If appropriate, she will, of course, make a statement.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Would my right hon. Friend ask the Home Secretary to speed up publication of the list of those who will serve on the Franks Committee to investigate the Official Secrets Act? The House would like to know the names of those who will serve, and perhaps we can take a step forward to more open government.

Mr. Whitelaw

I will certainly speak to my right hon. Friend about that.

Mr. Maclennan

When will the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food clear up the confusion which has been created through the failure of his Ministry to observe statutory obligations in regard to the laying of a scheme for fisheries grants? Will the Government provide time for this subject to be debated in Government time so that they can clear up the highly ambiguous and misleading remarks that were made yesterday by the Minister of Agriculture about the evaluation of costs in the Annual Price Review?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the first point, I promised last week that my right hon. Friend would make a statement, and he will do so. I cannot say when, but I promised that it would be as soon as possible. I said that last week, and it will be so.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I was not aware of the point which he has raised, but I shall look into it and speak to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture about it.

Captain W. Elliot

When will the Navy and Air Estimates be debated? Second, when the debates take place, will my right hon. Friend ensure that they are not curtailed as was the debate on the Army Estimates?

Mr. Whitelaw

They will both take place after Easter, and I shall certainly do my best to ensure that they are not curtailed.

Mr. Pardoe

Reverting to the right hon. Gentleman's answer just now on the question of political interference in B.B.C. broadcasts, is he aware that there are some of us in the House who are not happy that the fact that the previous Labour Government, now the Opposition, did something which was evil and monstrous should be regarded as a satisfactory excuse for his Government doing the same now? In view of the contraction of the alternative media, namely, the Press, into fewer and fewer hands, is there not the danger of increasing concentration of the power of the media in the hands of the State through television and radio, and will the Leader of the House, therefore, ensure that on every future occasion when a member of the Government interferes with the freedom of the media a statement about it is made to the House of Commons?

Mr. Whitelaw

Since I had considerable responsibilities in this matter over a long time, perhaps I might just tell the hon. Gentleman that what he says is not strictly true. The B.B.C. is responsible for its own programmes, and it is responsible also, as is the I.T.A., for providing political balance. All parties are entitled to complain—I should be surprised if I discovered that the Liberal Party have never complained at any time —if they think that the balance has been wrong.

Mr. Orme

Or not.

Mr. Whitelaw

Or not—yes, I shall come to that. They are entitled to complain. If they do, the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are fully entitled either to agree with their complaint or to reject it. I think that the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) will find, if he looks back to the time when I was Opposition Chief Whip, that there have never been fewer complaints from any one party in such a period of time.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Since on the 5th Day allotted to the Industrial Relations Bill there could be, I am given to understand, as many as 197 Divisions, requiring 17 hours, and since the country as a whole will be watching with close attention to see whether this House sets an example in the resolution of its own conflicts—which both sides constantly preach to the country—could my right hon. Friend tell us whether he has sought through the usual channels to achieve a rational and positive solution to this problem, or, if the usual channels are still blocked, whether he will seek to unblock them, or, if he fails to do that, whether he will at least ensure that some charity benefits from the marathon?

Mr. Whitelaw

I would only say that each hon. Member is responsible for the actions which he takes. I am quite happy to leave it there.

Mr. Kelley

Will the Leader of the House provide time before the Easter Recess to debate the threat to our fuel supplies arising out of the present situation in the Middle East?

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise the extreme importance of the matter which the hon. Gentleman raises. I do not think that in the present situation a debate would be appropriate, but my right hon. Friends concerned will naturally wish to keep the House informed, as appropriate.

Mr. Burden

May I remind my right hon. Friend that the last Conservative Government showed their concern for the conditions in which animals in research establishments are treated and set up the Littlewood Committee, which reported almost four years ago. Can he now say that there will be a debate on that Committee's Report in the not too distant future?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot add anything to what I have said to my hon. Friend in the past, except that I shall continue to do my best.

Mr. Lipton

In order to reduce the extent to which the Order Paper is cluttered up with stale Questions, will the Leader of the House soon give effect to the recommendation of the Procedure Committee to reduce the period of notice from 21 days to 10?

Mr. Whitelaw

I hope to put a Motion down on the Order Paper on that matter before Easter.

Captain Orr

In view of the very grave turn of events in Northern Ireland, will my right hon. Friend please take note that we may require an urgent debate early next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the importance of the matter which my hon. and gallant friend raises. I would only say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will, I know, wish to keep the House as fully informed as possible.

Mr. Callaghan

On another topic, as the citizens of Carlisle are anxiously waiting for the benefits of cheaper beer and beer of higher specific gravity which will result from denationalising the State enterprise, could the Leader of the House give the reason for the delay in producing that excellent Bill?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, because my constituents have a small and passing interest in the matter as well. The Bill will be brought forward for Second Reading shortly.

Mr. Laurance Reed

Can my right hon. Friend yet say when legislation will be introduced concerning the safety of rigs and platforms operating in the marine environment, and, when fixing the date, will he bear in mind that the "Sea Gem" inquiry which recommended such legislation is now more than two years out of date and that we are about to have a rapid expansion in off-shore activities in the northernmost part of the North Sea?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what my hon. Friend says. I cannot give the information for which he asks, but I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Carter

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the motor industry so that the Prime Minister may explain why he believes that, apart from the introduction of American law, we have anything more to learn from the American motor car industry, which in the not too distant past used the law of the gun to impose its form of industrial relations?

Mr. Whitelaw

I could not promise time for such a debate, but it seems to me that there are ample opportunities for raising just such questions in many of the debates already announced.

Mr. Ridsdale

Could I press the request already made by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) for an early debate on transport policy, especially in view of the rising fares which commuters are having to face due to escalating railway costs?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note the point which my hon. Friend makes. I have nothing to add to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East.

Mr. Dalyell

In view of the seizure in California of five RB211 engines and their legal attachment, could we have an early statement on this particular aspect of Rolls-Royce?

Mr. Whitelaw

In view of the legal issues involved, I must first say that I do not necessarily accept the full import of the statement made by the hon. Gentleman. However, I shall call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General to his remarks.

Dame Irene Ward

For the third week running, I ask my right hon. Friend when we are to have the Shipbuilding Bill, and more particularly since a rather odd speech was made yesterday by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which is rather difficult to interpret. It would help everyone in the shipbuilding and shipping world if we knew when we should debate the Bill, for we could then find out what the Secretary of State really meant.

Mr. Whitelaw

Without commenting on the various other points which she put, I can only say to my hon. Friend that, just as she has asked me that question over the last three weeks, I am afraid that I must give her the same answer as I have given in the past three weeks, which is, "Very soon".

Mr. Thorpe

Reverting to the question asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), there may or may not, for all we know, be a statement made in the Stormont Parliament this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman is not responsible for that, of course, but since the matters involved are ultimately the responsibility of this House, will he take it that we should have preferred a statement to this House to be made concurrently. If that is not possible, we shall expect a statement immediately following, at the earliest possible moment, the statement made in the Stormont. Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that, if the Stormont statement is today, we shall have a statement on these matters tomorrow?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. I think it fair to say that in the sort of situation in Northern Ireland all parts of this House have in the past, very rightly, shown forbearance and, while always wanting statements, have forborne to have them if they could, perhaps, make the situation worse in any way. I am very grateful for the forbearance which the House has shown in this matter. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will keep the House as fully informed as possible, and will make a statement when that is appropriate. I do not think that I can promise one tomorrow.

Mr. McNamara

On a point of order. While I appreciate the general tenor of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, there is an important point in connection with the matter the Leader of the Liberal Party has raised. There has already appeared on the tapes, concurrent, I believe, with the statement being made in Stormont, though I am open to correction on that, the news that 1,300 men were going to Belfast and that there was to be no internment. That sort of statement should have been made in this House, and the Home Secretary could have made it to me when I put my supplementary question to him earlier.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note the point the hon. Gentleman has made, and the very courteous and proper way in which he has put it. I shall call this matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Callaghan

Some of us have forborne from pressing the Home Secretary, because he has given assurances both publicly and in other ways that there is to be no departure from the principles he laid down in the House only a fortnight ago, but if by any chance a statement in Stormont should depart from those principles I trust that the Leader of the House will ask his right hon. Friend to make a further statement tomorrow.

Mr. Whitelaw

My remarks about forbearance were directed to the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, the Opposition Front Bench, and indeed all hon. Members. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is grateful to them. If there is any question of a departure from the principles my right hon. Friend laid down, I will speak to him and of course he will wish to keep the House informed thereafter.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that there has been a Thursday on which the Chair has been in greater difficulty. There is to be a statement and then a debate on the steel industry, and I have had many requests from hon. Members from all parts of the country to speak in that debate. I therefore hope that hon. Members will excuse me if I pass on to the next business.