HC Deb 25 March 1971 vol 814 cc877-87
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, 29TH MARCH—Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

Second Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill.

Motions on the Mines and Quarries (Valuation) Order and on the Docks and Harbours (Valuation) Order.

TUESDAY, 30TH MARCH—My right hon.Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget.

Motions on the Transitional Relief Orders and on the Double Taxation Relief Orders.

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

WEDNESDAY, 31ST MARCH—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Motions on the Cereals (Guarantee Payments) and (Protection of Guarantees) Orders.

THURSDAY, 1ST APRIL—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Motion on the Police Pensions (Amendment) Regulations.

FRIDAY, 2ND APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 5TH APRIL—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that at some time next week, as soon as the negotiations over the RB211 are over, there will be an early statement to the House, and will he ensure that the Minister making that statement tells us also what we may expect, in the form of a White Paper, a Select Committee, or both, so that the House may go into the whole unhappy history of this affair?

Mr. John Wells

Unhappy under the Labour Government.

Mr. Wilson

I referred last week to the record of both Governments. If the hon. Gentleman would pick up his apple and stop playing "footie-footie" with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks), he might learn a little more and help the proceedings of the House.

Second, will the right hon. Gentleman put it to his right hon. Friends that if they have a personal statement to make, whether in response to a point of order raised by another hon. Member or at their own wish, the best thing is to make a personal statement at the proper time, because it can create difficulty if it is followed by further points of order, especially as we are then engaged on what is an important part of the Question Time of the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

My answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first point is, "Yes, certainly". Of course, at the conclusion of negotiations a statement will be made. I note the right hon. Gentleman's other points, and entirely agree with him on his second. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment asked me if he should say anything at the end of Questions and before business questions. My answer was that he should not, because I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's view. But when my right hon. Friend was challenged by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) a somewhat different situation arose. I hope that we can proceed in the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman in the future.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

My right hon. Friend will recall that a little time ago he indicated his intention to make a statement about the provision of more time for Parliamentary Questions before Easter. As that feast is now looming over the horizon, can he indicate with greater precision when the statement will be made?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think I said that I would put various proposals before the House, for the House to come to a conclusion about Question Time, following the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure. I stand by that. I have undertaken to do it before Easter, and it will be done before Easter. Greater precision than that I cannot give this afternoon.

Mr. C. Pannell

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that a Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) was withdrawn on his assurances about a prospective Review Body on Members' remuneration and other things, and that he gave an undertaking to set up the body as soon as possible? Will he bear in mind that as the chairman of that body we want a person no less outstanding than Mr. Justice Lawrence, who presided over the previous one? Has he any statement to make about progress?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way he has put his question. The whole matter of the Review Body covers salaries wider than those of Ministers and Members of Parliament. What I undertook was to refer to the top salaries Review Body, as soon as it was set up, the question of Ministers' and Members' salaries. I regret that there has been some delay in getting the Review Body set up. I am very anxious that it should be set up at the earliest possible moment. One of the reasons for the delay is the hope that we should get someone who would be widely regarded as suitable in the House. I very much hope that we have such a man.

Sir F. Bennett

Two or three days ago there was quite a serious revolution and apparent counter-revolution in a Commonwealth country in which a substantial number of British subjects live and which has considerable British property, namely, Sierra Leone. Since then we have not had any authoritative statement. I in no way criticise the Government for that, as the normal method is to obtain a Private Notice Question, which was not possible on this occasion. But as the situation is still uncertain, could a statement on the matter be made in the near future?

Mr. Whitelaw

My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary is sitting beside me and has heard what my hon. Friend said. He has assured me that if there were any question of the safety of British citizens being involved he would immediately make a statement.

Mr. Oram

The Report of the Select Committee on Overseas Aid was published yesterday. Since the House has had very little opportunity either in debate or even at Question Time to discuss matters of aid and development, may we have the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that that Report will be discussed quite soon?

Mr. Whitelaw

There is a number of Select Committee Reports which various hon. Members on both sides urge me to have debated. Therefore I think I should be unwise to go so far as to give the assurance which the hon. Gentleman seeks. I note the importance of the Report, and if it could be fitted in I should be very pleased.

Mr. Woodnutt

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Motion No. 490 in my name and the names of several of my right hon. and hon. Friends about the undemocratic action of the Students' Union at Southampton University in proscribing the Conservative Association?

[That this House deplores the undemocratic action of the Students' Union at Southampton University in refusing to recognise the University Conservative Association, Pressure for Economic and Social Toryism, and the Monday Club, thereby denying these political organisations the use of the Students' Union Hall and grants from public and other funds, and, at the same time, giving recognition to the University Labour Club, the Third World and communist organisations and the University Women's Liberation Movement; and, in the event of the Students' Union failing to respond democratically when a further motion is put to the union meeting at the beginning of next term, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take appropriate action to ensure that undemocratic resolutions of this sort by students' unions have no validity.]

In view of this flagrant disregard of the best principles of democracy held sacred by every hon. Member, may we have an early opportunity to debate the Motion?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what my hon. Friend says, and I have considerable sympathy with his point. However, I cannot offer time for such a debate in the near future.

Mr. Atkinson

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that Mr. Alf Allen, Mr. Will Paynter, Mr. George Woodcock and some 27 other members of the General Council of the T.U.C., together with quite a number of leading academic authorities on industrial relations, have all now declared that they will not serve on any of the bodies proposed to be set up by the Government? Because of the outstanding work to be undertaken by those various bodies, is it possible for the Government to provide time next week for us to discuss this unprecedented situation, when in advance of the making of appointments to various Government authorities and investigation boards those people have declared that they will not serve on any of them? What will the Government do about this? Will the right hon. Gentleman give time for us to discuss the declaration by the T.U.C. that in no way will it co-operate with the Government over the Bill?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is not for me in answering business questions to deal with the hon. Gentleman's various arguments. I will call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to what the hon. Gentleman has said. I cannot give time for any such debate next week.

Mr. Jennings

May we have an early debate on the use of £46,000 of public money in the printing, publication and distribution in the post offices of a fact sheet on behalf of a minority, partisan group—in other words, those who favour entry into the Common Market?

Mr. Whitelaw

There is no question of these pamphlets being issued on behalf of any faction. There has been a great demand—and I notice that it has come rather more than from anywhere else from those who may be opposed to the Common Market—for the maximum amount of information about the European Economic Community. As a result, the Government are making available, as they did during the 1961–63 negotiations, factual pamphlets about the Community.

Mr. Prentice

May I press the right hon. Gentleman on the question of a possible debate on overseas aid in the next few weeks? Does not he agree that the value of Select Committee Reports would be greatly enhanced if they were debated in the House when the information is still fairly fresh? Therefore, may I make a special appeal to him to try to arrange a debate in the next few weeks?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said. It was rather interesting that in the debate on the Green Paper on Select Committees last November differing views were expressed as to when the debates should take place, and how often Select Committee Reports should be debated. It was felt that sometimes the value of the Report was more in its impact outside, and that a debate in the House might not be needed. There are differing answers with regard to different Reports. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but I cannot promise time for a particular debate in the near future.

Mr. John Wells

Particularly since the Leader of the Opposition has this afternoon expressed great interest in the apple industry, will my right hon. Friend find time to debate Motion 476?

[That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its swift action in laying the Broccoli Anti-Dumping Order on 10th March and urges it to keep all sensitive horticultural crops under constant review in order to prevent dumping at the earliest moment.]

This is clearly a matter of some importance on both sides. But seriously, at this time of year, when we are early in the horticultural season, it is important that anti-dumping be considered, because so often it has been considered when it is too late. Could my right hon. Friend do something before Easter?

Mr. Whitelaw

Perhaps I might be reasonably in order in congratulating my hon. Friend on the quick and ready manner in which he has been able to respond to the Leader of the Opposition. I am very glad that he feels that the Order has been put forward quickly. I am grateful to him for his support, but I cannot offer time for a debate.

Mr. Charles Morris

Is the Leader of the House aware that because of the cooperation, good sense and perceptiveness of the Opposition Front Bench, the House was able to have a short debate last Thursday on redundancy and other problems associated with the steel industry? Since Mr. Speaker asked during that debate for the co-operation of hon. Members on both sides, we were able to have 15 speeches in 87 minutes. Against that background it was staggering to hear the Minister for Industry say that he did not propose to answer one single point which had been made during that debate. Could the Leader of the House find time to have another debate in Government time on the important problem of rising unemployment, which is causing great consternation and suffering among steel workers?

Mr. Whitelaw

All Oppositions—and I have had considerable experience in Opposition over a period of time—have their proper rights under Supply time. If the hon. Gentleman feels that his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench have exercised their choice wisely that is very good, and I do not wish on this occasion to dissent from that choice. Even if I did, it would not matter because I have no say on what they choose to do with their time. On the other matter raised by the hon. Gentleman, I shall call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and if a statement has to be made one will be made. However, I cannot promise time for a debate in the near future.

Mr. Speaker

In regard to the point made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles Morris), I must point out in fairness to the Min- ister that I exercised pressure on both Front Bench speakers to keep their windup speeches short in order to allow time for more back bench speeches. In those circumstances it is a little unfair to criticise the Minister for the brevity of his reply.

Mr. Morris

On a point of order. I was not criticising the Minister for the brevity of his speech, Mr. Speaker, but for the fact that he indicated he had not time to answer any single point.

Mr. Speaker

I note what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Fowler

Could I draw attention to Early Day Motion No. 473, which stands in my name and which has the support of 50 other Members. The Motion deplores the recent action in the Nottingham area where workers were fined for not taking part in a one-day unofficial strike on 1st March. As there is now an attempt to enforce that decision, could my right hon. Friend find an early opportunity to debate the matter?

[That this House deplores the decision of the Nottingham District Committee of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry Workers to fine members, including Rolls-Royce workers, for not taking part in the one-day political strike against the Industrial Relations Bill on 1st March.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I realise the importance of the matter which my hon. Friend raises. I would eschew any discussion of the merits on both sides. As much as I should like to do so, I could not give time for a debate in the near future.

Mr. Barnett

Could the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that when the White Paper on Rolls-Royce is published it will include figures showing Government calculations of how money spent will provide an economically viable return?

Mr. Whitelaw

It would be unwise of me of all people to give assurances on any particular form of figures. I note what the hon. Gentleman says. The White Paper on Rolls-Royce will set out all the facts about the whole situation.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that recent events have given rise to a legitimate interest in all parts of the House about the extent to which the role of sterling and the European Monetary Union are subjects which come up for discussion and negotiation in the current Brussels talks? If the Government are to maintain their excellent record of candour on this issue, will my right hon. Friend say whether the Government will make a statement on this specific matter next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

Without wishing to comment one way or the other on the accuracy of my hon. Friend's particular point, I will call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to what he has said.

Mr. Ross

In regard to any statements which may be made next week by a departmental Minister covering the responsibilities of other Departments and which may be related to Wales or Scotland, will the right hon. Gentleman look at the frustrations which arose yesterday and ensure that when a Minister makes a statement on behalf of colleagues he is briefed to answer Questions? Alternatively, could we not change the practice and allow individual Ministers to answer questions appropriate to their own Departments?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. He knows that in these matters we have been following the precedents of the previous Government. However, if the House wishes otherwise I am prepared to consider changes. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the House will realise that the time of the House could be taken up unnecessarily if on a matter affecting the United Kingdom there were to be separate statements from the Secretaries of State for both Scotland and Wales. I am sure the House would regard that sort of practime as a difficult one, but I am prepared to look into particular cases.

Mr. Ross

believe that the right hon. Gentleman is missing the point. If a Secretary of State makes a statement on behalf of colleagues, he should be briefed to answer questions. I regard what happened yesterday as a disgraceful state of affairs. The hon. Member was told to put down a Question to the Secretary of State for Scotland, which was quite wrong.

Mr. Whitelaw

The right hon. Gentleman coupled his question with remarks about separate statements, and I was replying to that matter. I accept his point about a Minister having to be briefed, but equally I have had experience of complaints having been made about the making of separate statements even where that has happened. I doubt whether any briefing of a United Kingdom Minister would stop Scottish Members complaining that they do not receive a separate statement.

Mr. Speaker

I warn hon. Members that I shall allow only a few more questions on the business statement.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

I appreciate that there is not much time available for a debate on the matter raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler), but I should have thought there could be a statement by the Law Officers on the interesting point whether action can be taken against people for not indulging in illegal activities. The House will be interested to have a statement by the Law Officers as to how those individuals stand in law.

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot make any definite commitment. I will call the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to what my right hon. Friend has said. If a statement is considered suitable, one will be made.

Mr. James Johnson

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to allow time to debate the gigantic boob perpetrated on the House by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? We have had on the Order Paper the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) (Amendment) Scheme 1970, which has now been taken off since it has been held to be ultra vires by a Select Committee. May we be told when the House will be given an opportunity to debate this matter, or is it to be allowed to lie in obscurity for weeks?

Mr. Whitelaw

I wish to make it clear that the Order concerned was put forward and was ruled ultra vires by the Statutory Instruments Committee. There have been occasions, of which I could give the precedents, where Governments have proceeded despite such recommendations from the Statutory Instruments Committee and have carried an Order through the House. I thought such a course of action was wrong. It was right to pay attention to what the Statutory Instruments Committee thought and therefore I asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to consider the matter and he decided to withdraw the Order. He has undertaken to consider the position and will put down another Order and make a statement to the House about it.

Mr. Richard

Since as long ago as November we were promised a White Paper on commercial radio "early next year", could my right hon. Friend say whether it will be published next week? In fact, will the Government publish two White Papers—the original one produced by the Minister and the revised version approved by the Cabinet? It might be helpful to adopt such a practice so that the House may know how the Minister has been over-ruled.

Mr. Whitelaw

All I can say is that the White Paper on commercial radio which was promised will be published next week.