HC Deb 20 May 1971 vol 817 cc1520-30
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, 24TH MAY—Supply [20th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on an Opposition Motion on Steel.

Motions on the National Insurance (Married Women) Amendment Regulations and on the 1966 Act (Commencement No. 3) Order.

TUESDAY, 25TH MAY—Second Reading of the Pensions (Increase) Bill.

Motions on the Purchase Tax (No. 2) Order and on the Building Societies (Special Advances) Order.

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

WEDNESDAY, 26TH MAY—Debate on a Motion to take note of the White Paper "An Alternative Service of Radio Broadcasting", Command No. 4636.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Rating Bill, the Misuse of Drugs Bill and the Fire Precautions Bill.

THURSDAY, 27TH MAY—A debate on a Motion to take note of the Second Report of Select Committee on Science and Technology, Session 1968–69, on Defence Research, and on the White Paper on Defence Procurement, Command No. 4641.

FRIDAY, 28TH MAY—The House will rise for the Whitsun Adjournment until Tuesday, 8th June.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the statement which the Prime Minister will make on his return from Paris will be made on Monday next, as we understand? Would he further take note, since I got no satisfaction from the Home Secretary on the question of any nuclear or defence deal, that should the Prime Minister have made any commitment, either specific or by way of some hint or undertaking, the House will want to debate this at a reasonably early opportunity?

Second, with regard to next Monday's debate which follows that statement—the debate on steel—is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there seems to have been no response at all to our request that there should be a statement—a now overdue statement—from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about the Government's plans for steel? We said that it would be quite unsatisfactory to get this in the middle of the debate. Are we to have a statement before the debate, will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement in the debate, or is he still dickering about, despite his undertaking to give the House an answer before this time?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement on Monday on his talks with President Pompidou and will deal with all these matters then. On the second point, concerning the steel debate, I undertook last week to find out from my right hon. Friend whether he would be able to make a statement before the debate. I also appreciated that the House did not wish a statement to be made in the debate. I made this position clear to my right hon. Friend. He is not in a position to make a statement this week. Therefore, in accordance with my undertaking, no statement will be made in the debate—

Hon. Members


Mr. Whitelaw

That is what the House asked—

Mr. Harold Wilson


Mr. Whitelaw

Oh, yes. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that I was told last week, categorically, that unless a statement could be made in time, before the debate, if my right hon. Friend was not ready to do it, it was not to be made in the debate. That is what I was asked to do. In any case—[Interruption.] I am sorry if I am wrong. I should like to consult HANSARD to see what was said. I am always the first person to say when I am wrong, so I do not mind. It does not matter to me: if I am wrong, I am wrong.

In any event, my right hon. Friend will not be ready to make the considered statement which he has promised to the House because he has made it perfectly clear that he will make that statement only after the fullest possible consideration. He will not be ready to make that statement by Monday's debate, so it will not be made then—it will not be made before Whitsun.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I was going to say that our quarrel was not with the Leader of the House, because I am sure that he did his best to get his right hon. Friend to make a statement in the interests of the House as a whole and of that debate. But is he aware—in view of that heated little passage in the middle of his last answer—that we did not say that there should be no statement? We said that it would be bad to have it in the debate if it was not made before. If we do not have it before, the debate will be rendered a farce by the Government's ineptitude, because the right hon. Gentleman undertook two months ago that we would have a statement in six weeks.

Against that assurance, and in the light of the great feeling in steel constituencies as a result of the Government's policy, we put down this very serious Motion. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry seems incapable of devising a policy on steel. It is intolerable that, having waited so long, as we have postponed this debate, the Government still can make no statement, which should have been made before that debate—or failing that during the debate. Will the right hon. Gentleman represent this to his right hon. Friend?

Mr. Whitelaw

I would like to make the position perfectly clear. The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, as is their absolute right, decided to choose this Supply day for a debate on steel, and I fully appreciate their reasons for doing this in view of the considerable concern that is felt in many constituencies that are concerned with the steel industry. They did so without any assurance that a statement would be made before the debate.

I said that I would investigate the matter, and I found that my right hon. Friend would not be ready to make a statement before the debate. I have, therefore, made the position clear. He will not be ready to make such a statement until after Whitsun. The Opposition will be able to press their points in the debate, as I am sure they will wish to do, and I know that my right hon. Friend will answer them skilfully. [Interruption.] But he will not make a considered statement until he is ready to do so.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I am sorry to have to press the right hon. Gentleman further. I am sure that unconsciously he misrepresented what was said last week. The question was: Wil the Leader of the House urge his right hon. Friend to make a statement on reorganisation in advance of the debate on Monday week so that we know the Government's policy on what we are debating, rather than have it announced afterwards?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1971; Vol. 817, c. 624. That was perfectly clear. We wanted it before the debate. However, I did not say, as he will understand, that it should not otherwise be made.

In these circumstances, and since the Government have failed to make up their mind in time—[Interruption.] They have failed to make up their mind on steel policy, despite their assurances about their time-table. In recognising that a debate on steel must take place because of the anxiety that exists—we have postponed it for too long already—will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that when his right hon. Friend finally makes up his mind about steel policy Government time will be provided to debate his statement?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think the best way to help the right hon. Gentleman in this matter is to give him the assurance for which he asked in the last part of that supplementary question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear] That is a fair way out of this difficulty. The Opposition have chosen one of their Supply days to debate steel, and that will occur next Monday. As soon as the Government are in a position to make the full and considered statement which my right hon. Friend promised, we will find time for a debate.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much.

Sir G. Nahum

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it has taken two years to extract from this and the previous Government the name of the Chairman of the Review Body and that we are still without the names of the members of his Committee? Would it not be propitious next week for my right hon Friend to announce these names, and to include hon. Members of this House—for example, the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and myself—on this Committee to avoid the tortuous procedure of our having to troop before the Committee to give evidence?

Mr. Whitelaw

As my hon. Friend says, the name of the Chairman of the Review Body, Lord Boyle, has been announced. I agree that it would be propitious to announce the names of the other members next week, and I certainly hope that that will be done at the very earliest moment. I believe, in all the circumstances, that on a Review Body which is considering Ministers' and hon. Members' salaries it would not be suitable to have an hon. Member or right hon. Member of this House as a member, and there will not be one on it.

Mr. Loughlin

Perhaps I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman correctly. Did he say that he would announce the names of the members of the Review Body next week or at the earliest possible moment? When he makes the announcement, will he also make abundantly clear the procedures that are to be adopted for the submission of evidence by hon. Members?

Mr. Whitelaw

I said that it would certainly be propitious to do so. Nobody has been more anxious than I have been to make this announcement, but I cannot promise absolutely to make it next week because this matter involves having discussions with certain people. I wish that I could guarantee to make the announcement next week, but I have no intention of making a promise to the House which I may find it impossible to carry out.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about the way in which hon. Members will be able to approach this body is that I will get the terms forward as soon as I can.

Mr. Money

When will we have an opportunity to debate the White Paper on future policy for museums and galleries?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot say when that will be. The White Paper has only just been published and time is needed to consider it.

Mr. Willey

When the right hon. Gentleman makes his statement on the Review Body, will he make clear the terms of reference in regard to hon. Members' salaries.

Mr. Whitelaw

I did not say that I would make a statement. [Interruption.] The names will not necessarily be announced by me. I have had some discussions about the terms of reference, as I promised earlier, through the usual channels, and I am prepared to discuss them with any hon. Member. I think they will be found to be very broad and acceptable to the House.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Does my right hon. Friend yet know when the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be in a position to make a statement about the establishment of an inquiry into fowl pest, which is considerably worrying to a great many people now?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot say, but I will call the attention of my right hon. Friend to my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Opposition feels considerable dissatisfaction with the Home Secretary's handling of the Immigration Bill? Is he aware, as the manager of the Government's business, that we are constantly seeking information about the impact that the E.E.C. Treaty will have on the movement of Community nationals and workers in this country?

As we have failed to get a detailed reply from the Home Secretary, may we ask the right hon. Gentleman, since we are getting information about everything from inshore fisheries to New Zealand, for an authoritative statement from the Government about the impact that these regulations will have so that we can consider in Committee whether we are spending our time unnecessarily, particularly as the Home Secretary seems to think that there will be no impact at all?

Mr. Whitelaw

Without commenting on the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I think it is true to say that my right hon. Friend answered some Questions on this issue earlier. [Interruption.] I have nothing to add to what he said.

Mr. Callaghan

The Leader of the House was not present at that time. Is he unaware that the Answer which his right hon. Friend gave earlier comprised the single monosyllable "No"? Does he agree that that is by no means a full statement of the likely impact of the E.E.C. on our position?

I therefore repeat my question. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Home Secretary to be a little more forthcoming and either set out in a document or make a statement about the impact that this will cause, so enabling us to get on with our work rather faster?

Mr. Whitelaw

I understand that my right hon. Friend answered some supplementary questions earlier on this subject. In any event, he has heard what the right hon. Gentleman said; and this is obviously a matter for him.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Reverting to the question of the Review Body, may I ask my right hon. Friend to convey as soon as possible to the noble Lord, Lord Boyle, the view that hon. Members on both sides of the House are particularly anxious to ensure that he goes about his work not in a piecemeal or bitty way but conducts a really comprehensive exercise?

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise that. I have had the benefit of a short conversation with the noble Lord and I have no doubt that he will do just as my hon. Friend suggests. Indeed, Lord Boyle is so well known in this House that hon. Members will support this view.

Mr. John Mendelson

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that he was asked last week for a two-day debate on the Common Market negotiations before the Government commit themselves to any final agreement either at Luxembourg or Brussels? Does he appreciate that this matter has become all the more urgent since the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that he would consult the sugar-producing Commonwealth countries before finally making up his mind in the negotiations in Luxembourg?

It is now contemplated that a further session will take place in July between the Six and the right hon. Gentleman. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a debate must be arranged between 7th June and the beginning of July to enable the House to discuss these matters before the Government finally make a commitment?

Mr. Whitelaw

The position was made clear in the exchange between the Leader of the Opposition and myself last week. I have nothing further to add to the answer I gave then.

Mr. Cordle

In view of the strategic importance of the Trucial States, may we be told whether the Foreign Secretary has had discussions with the sheikhs? Will he be making an early statement?

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise the importance of the point raised by my hon. Friend. I will refer what he has said to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

The Leader of the House will recollect that about two weeks ago the Attorney-General promised to make a statement on the question of how far entry into the Common Market would undermine the sovereignty of this Parliament. Can he now say when that statement will be made? Will it be made at a date before the Government commit themselves irrevocably to this European venture?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will look into the matter and discuss it with my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Rost

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing public concern and suspicion about creeping metrication, which does not appear to have authority from this House? Can we have a debate on the subject?

Mr. Whitelaw

I know the interest in this subject. Some time ago the Government promised a White Paper and in due course one will be published, but I cannot say exactly when.

Mr. Edward Short

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the widespread dissatisfaction among local authorities with the Government's Education (Milk) Bill, which, if passed, will prevent those local authorities which wish to do so from continuing to supply milk and pay for it out of the rates? Will he either withdraw the Bill or amend it before it comes to Second Reading?

Mr. Whitelaw

The right hon. Gentleman knows that all these matters can be discussed when the Bill is brought before the House for Second Reading.

Mr. Lawson

Reverting to the steel industry debate, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry gave a promise two weeks ago to about 20 hon. Members on this side of the House that the statement would be made before the end of this month? Is he further aware that the statements being made by the Corporation and the Government as to what is being investigated are at such variance that none of us on this side knows just what is being investigated? Will he ensure, so that we can have an intelligent debate on Monday, that we have information as to what is being investigated?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not know of the promise to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, I will consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and see that he appreciates what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will try to arrange a debate on the construction industry, bearing in mind the number of operatives unemployed, particularly in Scotland, and also the great need for houses and power stations? If the right hon. Gentleman were to give that promise, we on this side could give our ideas about the reflation of the economy and the provision of work, houses and power stations which are so urgently required.

Mr. Whitelaw

I realise the importance of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I cannot promise time for such a debate in the immediate future. The hon. Gentleman has his methods of telling the Government exactly how he thinks these things should be done, and I am sure that he will use them.

Mr. Eadie

Can the right hon. Gentleman inform us when the Secretary of State for Scotland will make a statement about unemployment there in view of the intolerable figures announced today? Will he bear in mind that Scotland has the highest proportion in Great Britain of unemployment among the under-18s, and that this is building up, and will continue to build up, into an intolerable social situation?

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise the seriousness of the problem, but I cannot say when my right hon. Friend will make a statement. I will see that what the hon. Gentleman has said is called to his attention.

Mr. Molloy

What progress has been made with a view to having a debate on an issue which is causing grave concern —the computerised information being held by Departments of State and the rumours that commercial organisations can purchase it? The matter is causing grave concern to people both in this House and outside it. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is making some investigation in relation to the Departments of State. When this is finalised, will there be a debate in the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did the other day, the public concern. My right hon. Friend said that he was investigating the matter and that as soon as he had any information to give to the House he would make a statement. That is the position. He will make a statement as soon as he is ready to do so.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.