HC Deb 11 November 1971 vol 825 cc1229-37
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,15TH NOVEMBER— Second Reading of the Housing Finance Bill.

TUESDAY, 16TH NOVEMBER and WEDNESDAY, 17TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Government Bill.

At the end on Tuesday, Motions on Procedure, and at the end on Wednesday, Motions on the Industrial Court (Appeals) Orders and the Legal Aid (Extension of Proceedings) Regulations.

THURSDAY,18TH NOVEMBER— Supply (1st allotted day): There will be a debate on Education, which will arise on an Opposition Motion. Motion on the White Fish Subsidy Scheme.

FRIDAY, 19TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Superannuation Bill. Motions on the Representation of the People Parliamentary Constituencies Orders.

MONDAY, 22ND NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government intend to have an early debate on Northern Ireland ; indeed, they probably would have been willing to have had such a debate next week although, for reasons for which I am responsible, it might he convenient to some of us to have it the following week. If we are to expect publication of the Compton Report, would the right hon. Gentleman agree to consider whether that report should be debated as part of the general debate on Northern Ireland, or should it be considered on its merits when we receive it?

I welcome the two days allocated to the Local Government Bill, though I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not allocated the same time to the Housing Finance Bill. Has he yet taken any decision about the recommendations he will make about part of the Local Government Bill going upstairs and, if so, which parts does he envisage going upstairs since some are more clearly suited to the Floor of the House than others?

Thirdly, on the questions which were put to him in the recent debate about the form of Common Market legislation, are we to take it, as a result of inquiries we have made, that the Leader of the House is quite genuinely in the situation that at the moment he does not know how many Bills there will be and what the form will be? No doubt he will report to the House as soon as he can.

Is he now in a position to answer an important question I put to him the other evening—it was somewhat noisy on that occasion, and perhaps he may not have appreciated its purpose—namely, that since there will be an enormous amount of legislation the purpose of which will be to replace existing commercial, company and much other legislation which has been hammered out in this House over the years line by line and clause by clause, there will be no proposal to replace that under the Statutory Instrument procedure; and that, whatever is to be the new law to be recommended to the House it will be similarly debated, with all the normal stages involving the power of amendment in both Committee and on Report?

Mr. Whitelaw

Perhaps I should reply first to the right hon. Gentleman's last point. The detailed studies necessary for the preparation of this European legislation are now being carried out, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman appreciates. The legislation will be introduced in the new year. In the mean-time I should like to assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am prepared to consider during the preparation of the legislation any representations that might be made to me through the usual channels or from right hon. and hon. Members in the House. I think that is the best way to proceed.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the procedure on Northern Ireland, and I am grateful to him for what he said. The Government will fit in with his proposal for a debate on Northern Ireland and will consult through the usual channels about timing to fit in with the various arrangements. The Compton Report will be published early next week and I note what the right hon. Gentleman said.

The Government propose to send the Local Government Bill upstairs to a large Standing Committee.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Will the procedure Motions on Tuesday night be confined to the less controversial recommendations of the Select Committee?

Mr. Whitelaw

The answer is that, as I promised the House when I made the statement, I would put down on the first occasion only those proposals which seemed to be non-controversial, I shall do so. The main controversial one, which I know concerns Scottish hon. Members, I shall put down next week. I shall put it down in good time, and I give an undertaking that it will not be put down late at night. I intend to give more time to that matter than is normally the case, and I hope it will be before 10 o'clock.

Mr. George Thomas

Since the Leader of the House must have been told by his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales of the deep resentment in the Principality that the Welsh proposals have been tagged on with local government reform in England, will the right hon. Gentleman now ensure that the Welsh part of the Bill is discussed on the Floor of the House where every Welsh constituency Member can play his proper part?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have noted the Motion on the Order Paper. It was partly for that reason that, very much against the precedents and in a way which the previous Government never did, I decided that it was right to give two days for the Second Reading of this Bill, in view of the Welsh point made by the right hon. Gentleman and the strength of the case. As for the Committee stage, it was my view that it was right to send the whole Bill upstairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] But I believe that there will he opportunities for right hon. and hon. Members on Report later on.

Dame Irene Ward

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that no action will be taken on any reorganisation of the police force without a debate in Parliament? Will he bear in mind that I am most anxious, as I am sure the whole House will be, that we do not have any controversy with regard to the police force, and will he hear in mind that I am all on the side of the police?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the important points that my Friend has made.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does the Leader of the House imagine that, simply because he thinks that Motions on procedure are non-controversial, they will be non-debatable? They will need to be examined in very great detail, even though they may be non-controversial. Will he also give an early undertaking that he will provide a day for a debate on the televising of the proceedings of this House, that being particularly propitious in view of his clownish and irresponsible behaviour on Tuesday night?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the hon. Gentle-man's first point, I undertook to have discussions through the usual channels about these procedure Motions. I have done that. I put them down after such consultations. Time will be available on Tuesday night for debating them. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that the time given thereafter for the Scottish matter is a concession to a Scottish point of view and in accordance with my undertaking.

As for the televising of Parliament, this has always been a matter for the House to decide. If there is a general feeling that it would be right to discuss this matter and take a decision upon it, no one would be more pleased than I. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I was one of those who voted for it when it came before this House on a previous occasion, although on that occasion I was, in company with the then Government Chief Whip, in a minority of one. I have not changed my view, and I am only too ready to bring it forward again. But this is a matter for the House as a whole.

Mr. Atkinson

The right hon. Gentleman would be the star turn.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Will my right hon. Friend arrange as a matter of considerable urgency for a statement to be made by the Minister of State for Defence on the problem of guarding police stations in Northern Ireland, especially in view of the fact that two police stations have been totally destroyed while the matter has been under consideration in Whitehall?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall of course call this important and serious matter to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence. This and other matters are under consideration in Belfast. I think that that is the right position at the moment.

Mr. Pavitt

Has the Leader of the House noticed Early Day Motion No. 2 in connection with Rhodesia, and the eviction of some 3,500 black tenants from a Methodist settlement? In view of last night's debate, obviously this is not an appropriate time for an immediate further debate upon the matter, but will the right hon. Gentleman draw the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to the criteria outlined in that Motion?

[That this House does not countenance talks and would refuse any settlement with the rebel regime which has usurped control in Rhodesia unless the Land Tenure Act which designates land into black-occupied and white-occupied area is repealed; and, in particular, would regard the Rhodesian plan to evict 3,500 African tenants from a British Methodist Church settlement, the Epworth mission's 9,000 acre estate, as proof that Her Majesty's Government could not with honour accord any recognition to Mr. Smith's rule if such evictions take place.]

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly I shall do that. I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary appreciates these matters very well at a time when he is going to Rhodesia.

Mr. Normanton

In view of the deep and widespread concern expressed both inside this House and outside it at the imminent ending of the need to indicate markings of origin on imported materials, will my right hon. Friend consider giving time at an early date for a debate on this very important subject?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am sympathetic to this point of view. I could not give time next week, but I shall call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Palmer

Will the right hon. Gentleman give time fairly soon for a general debate on the future of Government scientific research and development, including the Dainton Report and the question of Lord Rothschild's activities?

Mr. Whitelaw

I realise the interest of the hon. Gentleman in this matter and the amount that he has contributed to discussions on the subject. I also appreciate the importance of the subject. I could not give time at the moment, but certainly I shall bear the matter in mind.

Mr. Jennings

Does my right hon. Friend realise how happy he has made me by saying that he regards the proposals on procedure that he has put down for debate on Tuesday night as non-controversial? Are we to take it that any Amendments that may be tabled—and I hope to table three today—will also be regarded as non-controversial and that, if they were called by you, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend would be prepared to accept them in anticipation?

Mr. Whitelaw

Naturally, I should wish to see the Amendments that my hon. Friend put down to the Motions. The whole matter can be considered and if there were a strong division of feeling in the House about some of them and the general wish was that I should take them back for further consideration, I should do so.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Recognising the right hon. Gentleman's concession in providing time for the House to debate the controversial matter in respect of the Scottish Committee, may I ask whether this will be done before or after the Second Reading of the Scottish Housing Finance Bill? It would be disgraceful if any limitation were placed on the number of hon. Members who coul dserve on that important Committee.

Mr. Whitelaw

That question gives me an opportunity to clarify what I think was the purpose behind the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure on this matter. It was to bring the position of Scottish Committees into line with that of all Standing Committees of this House. In all Standing Committees of this House, there is always an opportunity to have a larger Committee in specific cases, as is being done on some of the major Bills which we are taking at the moment. Therefore, even if this Motion were passed—and I am not prejudging the issue—that would not stop the Scottish Committee considering the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill being larger than the number of 16. That could be done even if this Motion were passed.

Mr. Scott

In view of the large number of hon. Members likely to want to take part in the debate on the Housing Finance Bill, will my right hon. Friend consider suspending the rule on Monday evening perhaps for an hour, so as to allow more to take part?

Mr. Whitelaw

I know that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak on this subject. Equally, I appreciate that the Leader of the Opposition previously asked for two days. In the circumstances, and if it is the wish of the House, certainly I am prepared to suspend the rule for an hour on Monday night.

Mr. Roper

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the committal Motion on the Local Government Bill, in view of the precedent of the London Government Bill, 1963, when four days were given on the Floor for the discussion of Clause 1 and Schedule 1 dealing with detailed boundaries?

Mr. Whitelaw

I take note of that point. However, I still feel that, in all the circumstances, my proposition is a reasonable one.

Mr. Ridsdale

Is my right hon. Friend aware how disappointed I am that he was not able to arrange a debate on local government finance ahead of the Local Government Bill. He will remember that I pressed him last week to do so. Is he aware that this will have a grave effect on the transfer of North-East Essex to Suffolk? When the Local Government Bill is taken on the Floor, will my right hon. Friend ensure that a Treasury Minister is present to reply to financial questions?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what my hon. Friend has said. I shall discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and other Ministers concerned. I also note what my hon. Friend says about the amount of time, presumably on Report, to be given to the Local Government Bill on the Floor of the House.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I must warn the House that we cannot have an unlimited period for these questions.

Mr. Milne

Arising from the right hon Gentlemans' failure to include discussion of employment and job prospects in the North-East in next week's business, will he arrange for an early debate on this subject, as there was a complete absence of any dealing with this important and urgent matter during the debate on the Gracious Speech?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said. I could not undertake to give time next week but I will certainly bear in mind the point he has made.

Mr. Crouch

I should not like my right hon. Friend to think that his expressed enthusiasm this afternoon for again considering, after a long time, televising the proceedings of the House will go unnoticed. I for one greatly welcome his enthusiasm, and I hope that he can give the House some intimation that we may be able before Christmas to debate this important question of presenting Parliament to the public more closely.

Mr. Whitelaw

I have always said that I am ready to respond to the wishes of the House on this matter, and if I receive strong representations from all parts of the House of a desire on the part of right hon. and hon. Members to discuss this particular subject, of course I am prepared to give the opportunity.

Mr. Lawson

Reverting to the question of the Scottish Standing Committee, would the right hon. Gentleman consider a form of words that would give the House the right, if the House or the Opposition so desired, to demand a larger number of Members on a particular Committee.

Mr. Whitelaw

The unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure in no way precluded that, because it would only put the Scottish Standing Committee on exactly the same basis as all the other Standing Committees of the House. In all the other cases in the House, representations about larger Committees are always considered and frequently granted. If I may say so to the hon. Gentleman—I see he is shaking his head—it is fair to say that very much larger Committees will certainly be granted in the case, for example, of the Housing Finance Bill and the Local Government Bill, as has been done in the past on many other Bills, and in all other cases of English and Welsh Measures the consideration of the size of the Committee has always been one to be discussed through the usual channels.