HC Deb 06 May 1971 vol 816 cc1644-53
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, 10TH MAY—Consideration of Private Members' Motions until 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, Second Reading of the Mineral Workings Bill [Lords].

Motions on the Rating of Industry (Scotland) Order and on the Valuation (Mines and Quarries) (Scotland) Order.

TUESDAY, 11TH MAY and WEDNESDAY, 12TH MAY—Progress on the Committee stage of the Finance Bill.

At the end on Wednesday—

Motions on the Drivers' Hours (Passenger and Goods Vehicles) (Modification) Order and on the Fertilisers (United Kingdom) Scheme.

THURSDAY, 13TH MAY—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill [Lords] and of the Water Resources Bill [Lords].

Motion relating to the Industrial Training Levy (Air Transport and Travel) (Amendment) Order.

FRIDAY, 14TH MAY—Consideration of Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 17TH MAY—Supply [19th Allotted Day]: The topic to be debated will be announced later.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that we pressed him earlier for a debate on the situation in Pakistan and Bengal? Since the matter will come up, as I understand it, next Friday on a Private Member's Motion from this side of the House, will he take it from us that in these circumstances we no longer press for Government time on this, although depending on the Government answer we may wish to revert to this topic?

Secondly, in relation to next week, having regard to the point of order raised just now, if you, Mr. Speaker, having looked at this, decide, as seemed to be your first impression, that Prime Ministerial Answers are not matters for the Chair, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will undertake that there will be discussions through the usual channels to ensure that, while there can obviously be no inhibition on the answers given by a Prime Minister, anxieties that the scope of Questions is being progressively—or regressively—narrowed can he dealt with?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I am grateful for what he says. He rightly points out that his hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) has a Motion down on the subject on 14th May and the House can then consider the question. I would only add that, as and when there are any developments, I know that the Foreign Secretary would naturally wish to keep the House informed.

As to the right hon. Gentleman's second point, about Prime Minister's Questions' you, Mr. Speaker, have said that you will look into this, and that is a matter for you. The House would be well advised to await what you decide. On the general merits of the question, all I can say is that I noticed no change of practice and it seemed that my right hon. Friend was asked a Question and gave a very satisfactory Answer.

Mr. Harold Wilson

On that latter point, there is a change in practice, there is a narrowing and it must be discussed. On the first question, the right hon. Gentleman has undertaken that there will be statements from time to time. Would he also discuss the question of his right hon. Friend being able to make a statement to the House, in advance of the debate on Friday, on the suggestion I made two weeks ago that we should press for international observers in this Commonwealth country, as was done by general agreement in Nigeria, to deal with accusations of genocide?

Mr. Whitelaw

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I think that we should wait and see how we get on. On the second point, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to this in answer to Questions on Tuesday, but I know that if my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has any useful infor- mation to give to the House he will immediately come and do so.

Mr. Marten

Has my right hon. Friend seen Motion 510, which deals with fishing and the Common Market negotiations?

[That this House believes that matters essential to the future prosperity of the British fishing industry such as the access to coastal waters, grading, minimum prices and the importation of fish fillets should be negotiated with the European Economic Community prior to Parliament being asked to approve British entry.]

As the Norwegian Government have made a clear statement of where they stand, may we have a statement, possibly next week, to show where the British Government stand, and at the same time making it certain that this matter becomes a principle in our negotiations equivalent to New Zealand and Commonwealth sugar?

Mr. Whitelaw

As my hon. Friend appreciates, this is clearly a matter for the negotiations. Meetings are taking place next week, after which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will make a statement to the House.

Mr. William Rodgers

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether we may expect a statement next week on the future of the RB211 engine?

Mr. Whitelaw

Yes, there will be a statement on the position of the RB211 engine on Monday.

Mr. Deedes

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that some of us think it would be valuable to have a debate on metrication before we reach the point of no return?

Mr. Whitelaw

As my right hon. Friend knows, the Government have promised a White Paper on this subject. After the publication of the White Paper there will be an opportunity for a debate. If my right hon. Friend thinks that there should be a debate before the publication of the White Paper—and I cannot say when it will be published—certainly that course can be considered.

Mr. Oram

Is not a debate on overseas aid overdue? Although a Bill dealing with the encouragement of private investment in developing countries is due, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that a debate on that Bill would be too narrow, and that wider issues of overseas aid and development need to be debated?

Mr. Whitelaw

Whether or not a debate is overdue, I readily undertook that there should be such a debate, and I hope to bring it on as soon as I reasonably can.

Mr. Farr

At what time is the debate on the Water Resources Bill on Thursday likely to commence, and how long will the House have to discuss Amendments?

Mr. Whitelaw

The answer, as always on these occasions, must be that it depends how long the Bill before that Bill takes.

Mr. Marks

Is the Leader of the House aware that there have been only two major debates on education since the General Election, both on Opposition Motions? Does not he think that the importance of and the rate of expenditure on education warrant some Government time on this subject?

Mr. Whitelaw

Naturally, I appreciate the importance of the subject. I would not care to speculate, without checking, how debates on education have arisen in the past. Supply Days are concerned with the expenditure of money, and that is obviously a reasonable way of raising the subject of education.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on both sides of the House there is anxiety about the Government's policy towards the international monetary difficulties now emerging, tempered only by a realisation that it is possibly indelicate for a statement to be made at this point of time? Since there is a likelihood that on Monday decisons will have been taken to allow the German central banks to permit open foreign exchange, may we expect a statement of the Government's attitude early next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not think that I can follow my hon. Friend that there is anxiety about the policy of Her Majesty's Government on this matter. As for what may follow, we must wait to see what happens in the next few days in other places.

Mr. Donald Stewart

On what day will the Motion on the appointment of Members of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs come before the House, to enable me to register my protest against exclusion from that Committee? Since I represent a substantial minority opinion, my exclusion from the Committee amounts to gerrymandering.

Mr. Whitelaw

In answering the hon. Gentleman's question, it is only fair to point out that the representation on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs has to take account of the representation in the House. I therefore cannot accept his charges of gerrymandering. The precedent of the House in this matter has simply been followed. As to when the Motion will be before the House, I should like to have discussions through the usual channels, but to allow an opportunity for any questions about it to be raised, I would certainly hope to put it down early next week.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we shall debate the powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner, in the light of the Report of the Select Committee which has been refuted by the recommendations of the Government?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot offer time for such a debate in the near future. The Government's position on this Report was made perfectly clear.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

The Leader of the House mentioned that a Scottish Rating Order would be included in Monday's business. Will sufficient time be allowed to enable us to expand on the reasons why the Scottish electorate have completely rejected 'the Government's policy on local government finance?

Mr. Whitelaw

Without wishing to follow the hon. Gentleman in his point, I can say that there will be plenty of time to discuss the Order.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable feeling among the communities of East Pakistan, or Bangla-Desh, resident in this country that we have shown insufficient concern about the situation, that we are not doing enough to relieve this great tragedy and have failed to condemn the immense brutality of the West Pakistan army? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to make a statement early next week, and will he also make arrangements for a debate so that this issue may be discussed?

Mr. Whitelaw

If there is any feeling of complacency about this, I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House would regret it. I do not think it can be said that there has been complacency on the part of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made our position, and what we are seeking to do, very clear, and so has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in answer to Questions. There will be an opportunity for debating this matter on the Private Members' Motion next Friday, when the points made by the hon. Gentleman can be deployed.

Mr. Leadbitter

The Leader of the House will be aware of the Motion in my name, supported by 130 right hon. and hon. Members, on the steel industry.

[That this House deplores the effect of Her Majesty's Government's policies and attitudes which are damaging the long-term development plans of the British Steel Corporation; asserts that the increasing levels of redundancy in the industry are unacceptable; declares that the lowest level of steel production for eight years could have been avoided; protests that Government interference on steel prices and public utterances of nonintervention are contradictory postures frustrating the good management of the industry and its production potential; regrets that no steps have been taken to reduce the importation of steel and steel pipes; objects to announcements of closures and redundancies in breach of assurances of prior consultation or without any statement in the House of Commons; and draws attention to the lack of Government policy to change the course of events in the steel industry at a time when the unemployment figures in the country have reached the highest level in 30 years.]

The right hon. Gentleman will also be aware of the recent comments of Lord Melchett, the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation, published in the Press this week. He will also be aware of the redundancies in the industry, the uncertainty and the lack of confidence which prevails about future investment policies. Will the Leader of the House reflect the concern of hon. Members and of the people who work in the industry and discharge the responsibility of the Government by giving time for a debate on this subject? In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn), the Leader of the House gave a specific undertaking to make changes to allow for a debate. On 26th April, the Leader of the House said that he would honour what he had said. Will he now do so and give us Government time for a debate on steel?

Mr. Whitelaw

I answer to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) last week, I undertook that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for trade and industry would make a statement to the House as soon as his short-term review was completed. I cannot say exactly when that will be. I understood the right hon. Gentleman and the House to feel that it would be right to await any debate in the House until such a statement could be made. If that is not the position, I unreservedly apologise, and once I have checked with HANSARD I can accept that position. If that is not the case, I note that there is a request for a debate, but I cannot say when it will be possible. As for my own undertakings, I have checked every word I said most carefully and I cannot see in anything I said that I gave a specific undertaking for a debate on the steel industry, apart from the question of redundancies. I gave no undertaking for Government time for a debate away from that. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to dispute it, I am only too pleased, but that is my reading of the words.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether the debate on overseas aid will take place before Whitsun? Has he anything further to say about the debate on the White Paper on local government reorganisation?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have undertaken that there will be a debate on local government reorganisation. I cannot say exactly when it will be, but I hope certainly before Whitsun. As for the debate on overseas aid, I will bring it forward as soon as I can. I cannot promise that it will be before Whitsun.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

In view of the recent appalling series of accidents on the M1, will the right hon. Gentleman in the near future give the House an opportunity to discuss safety on the motorways?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note the importance of the subject the hon. Gentleman raises and I appreciate his particular interest in it. I will call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries to what he has said. I cannot offer time for a debate in the near future.

Mr. Lipton

Has the Leader of the House seen Motion No. 538, which draws his attention to what I consider to be undesirable mushroom growths in life assurance where speculators and go-getters are now seeking to exploit the public? What does he intend to do about that Motion?

[That this House calls upon the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to introduce more stringent controls of new life assurance companies now being developed on the basis of high-pressure sales techniques and high commission rates.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not think it would be profitable for me to take up the hon. Gentleman's arguments. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will be aware of that Motion. I cannot promise time to debate it in the near future.

Mr. Kaufman

In view of the outrageous occurrence last night when seven Northern Ireland Members voted to take away investment grant from Great Britain which they have made sure of keeping for their own industry in Northern Ireland, will the Leader of the House undertake to bring before the House next week a Bill to take away from Northern Ireland Members the right to vote in this House on matters relating only to Great Britain?

Mr. Whitelaw

In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, nothing outrageous occurred. It was entirely in accordance with normal practice. The answer to the second part of the question is, no.

Dr. Gilbert

Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to add anything to the answer he gave before Easter in respect of a debate on the Crowther Report on consumer credit? Could he bear in mind that there are serious anomalies in the present law and that the recommendations affect every household?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the importance of the subject. I cannot say when time can be found for a debate, but I note what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Kilfedder

Would the right hon. Gentleman find time to debate the question of increasing the number of Members from Northern Ireland, in view of the fact that the people of Northern Ireland have a smaller number of Members in this House than they should have compared with the electoral quota in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Whitelaw

I will not take up my hon. Friend's points on matters which are normally the concern of Boundary Corn-mission reports. I am afraid I cannot offer any time for a debate on the matters he has raised.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take only two more business questions.

Mr. Ross

In view of the fact that a clear opinion against the Government has been expressed by the people of Scotland on the local elections, is it the intention of the Secretary of State for Scotland to make an announcement about the withdrawal of the Education (Scotland) Bill and of Scottish participation in the Licensing (Abolition of State Management) Bill?

Mr. Whitelaw

No, Sir.

Sir G. Nabarro

Has not my right hon. Friend misunderstood the question earlier by the hon. Member for Dudley (Dr. Gilbert) on consumer credit? Is it not a fact that we are anxiously awaiting a statement from the Government as to their policy on the Crowther Report on this subject, notably in the context of the motor industry which is seriously afflicted at present and urgently needs relief from hire purchase restrictions?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not think that I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman's question because he asked me about time for a debate, to which I replied.

Sir G. Nabarro

I want a statement.

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate that my hon. Friend wants something different from what I was previously asked. I will undertake to consider with my right hon. Friend when such a statement will be made to the House.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We must move on. I have called every Member who got up in the first 15 minutes of questions on business.

Mr. Whitelaw

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ought to be fair to the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter), who raised a question about exactly what I had said. I would like to look at the words I used with the hon. Gentlemen concerned and, if they can prove to me that my words indicated that there would be a debate on steel in Government time, I will honour it at once.

Mr. Leadbitter

I accept what the Leader of the House has said. I thank him for his good will on this matter and I will see him behind Mr. Speaker's Chair.