HC Deb 20 April 1972 vol 835 cc748-59
Mr. Michael Foot

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. Robert Carr)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 24TH APRIL. Progress on the Report stage of the Housing Finance Bill.

Motion on the Agricultural Investment (Variation of Rate of Grant) Order.

TUESDAY, 25TH APRIL and WEDNESDAY, 26TH APRIL. Further consideration in Committee on the European Communities Bill.

THURSDAY, 27TH APRIL. Supply (18th Allotted Day): Until about Seven o'clock, there will be a debate on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and thereafter on Bangladesh; both debates will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Road Traffic (Foreign Vehicles) Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Eggs (Protection of Guarantees) Order.

FRIDAY, 28TH APRIL. Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 1ST MAY. Consideration of Private Members' Motions until 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, remaining stages of the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Bill [Lords] and of the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill.

Mr. Foot

We on this side of the House are extremely critical of the programme of business that the Leader of the House has put before us, since we believe it arises from the pressure of the superfluous legislation that the right hon. Gentleman is presenting to the House. For that reason my questions to him will be slightly longer than the House would wish, but I wish to put them none the less.

We cannot accept that the Committee stage of the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Bill, which will be on Monday week—a Bill which is so strongly contested on this side of the House—should be confined to a half-day or a part of a day. We think there should be a full day. On that day the Vehicle and General discussion will take place. Does the Leader of the House accept that, although it is perfectly proper that there should be a debate on a Private Member's Motion, this is not a substitute for the Government providing time to discuss a major report which raises principles of some importance for the whole conduct of the affairs of the House? Some indication was given by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor that the Government would provide such time.

As for Thursday's business, I thank the Leader of the House for agreeing to our representations that there should be debates on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Industry, on which we wish to criticise the Government's melancholy record, and on Bangladesh. But these debates will take place only because of the representations from this side of the House.

We are also concerned that apparently no time is available in the Government programme for next week and shortly afterwards for dealing with the heavy unemployment figures announced today. We should have a debate on that subject.

The Government are making no provision for a debate on Statutory Instruments, which are pouring into the House more and more, and on which the obligations of the House are not being discharged. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how soon he can give us a full day to discuss how the House of Commons is not being allowed to discharge its obligations for debating Statutory Instruments? Finally—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will understand this—it may be that, dependent on the situation at the beginning of the week, it would be appropriate for a debate on the railway situation, and we on this side would wish to have discussions about that. If it is considered desirable we would like to have a debate at the beginning of next week.

Mr. Carr

Any representations that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) likes to make on the last matter will be considered in the usual way.

On the hon. Gentleman's more general points, I cannot accept his remarks about superfluous legislation. It is true that we have a heavy programme of legislation. It is very important legislation to which the Government are committed If it has taken somewhat longer than we had hoped and has, therefore, left less time than we would have liked for other things, the hon. Member and some of his hon. Friends should examine their own consciences about that.

In spite of this heavy programme we have managed next week to provide a Supply Day, about which we are glad, and which we wanted to do. But I think the hon. Member would admit, bearing in mind the number of Supply Days to which the Opposition are entitled, that they are well up to quota for this time of the year. They are not running behind. They have chosen to debate very important matters next week, and I certainly do not criticise their choice of priorities. We will do the best we can to find time for the very important matters that he would like to see discussed, but the Government's business at this time of the year is pressing and it is the Government's job to get their business.

As for 1st May, I accept that a commitment has been made about the Vehicle and General debate. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), who was fortunate in the Private Members' Ballot, has chosen this subject. We welcome this, but we should see how the debate goes and perhaps we can talk about it again if there is a strong feeling that the opportunity has not been sufficient to debate the matter.

I note what the hon. Member says about the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Bill but we must see what progress we make when we come to it.

On Statutory Instruments, I agree that this is a real problem. It has been growing for some years. The hon. Member will recognise that, and he will know that there is a Joint Select Committee on the whole question of delegated legislation. We must await that Committee's report for a fundamental solution to the problem.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you help the House? There has been some suggestion of a debate on the railway dispute, but surely until the court's ruling has been accepted the matter is sub judice and cannot be debated?

Mr. Speaker

I propose to deal with that matter later.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Reverting to the business of 1st May, there is a general feeling that three hours will not be enough even now for that debate. There are hon. Members on both sides who realise that the issue raises very serious and basic matters going to the depths of our public and commercial life. Would my right hon. Friend consider matching the three hours of Private Members' time with three hours of Government time immediately following and thus give a whole day for this important subject?

Mr. Carr

I do not think I can make a commitment at this juncture, but I will consider the point which my hon. Friend has just made, bearing in mind the other things that have been said before. I am not making a commitment, but I will genuinely consider it.

Mr. Michael Foot

May I put to the right hon. Gentleman one question on the Statutory Instruments matter which we regard as being of great importance. The fact that there is a Committee examining the whole question does not remove from the Government the obligation to provide the time for such debates. It is impossible for that to happen if the time of the House is so occupied with legislation, as the Government propose. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks there has been any difficulty about the legislation now before the House, and particularly the European Communities Bill, we should be very happy to see him attending the Committee considering that Bill and seeing for himself what is happening.

Mr. Carr

I accept that there is a genuine problem over Prayers and so on. But the hon. Gentleman should admit that it is a long-standing problem. I remember that we had similar problems when we were in opposition. This is—I cannot make it otherwise—the time of the year when the pressure of Government legislation is, unfortunately perhaps, exceptionally heavy. But the legislation is part of our main programme. It is something to which we are committed, and it must take its proper place.

Mr. Sydney Chapman

Following the representations made to him by hon. Members on both sides last week, has my right hon. Friend any information to give us about the possibility of a debate at the earliest possible opportunity on the critically important questions of land prices, house prices and land for housing?

Mr. Carr

There will be an opportunity on the remaining stages of the Housing Finance Bill to discuss some of the important subjects connected with housing. As to the rest of the matter that my hon. Friend raises, we shall have to look at it when we have got through that stage, but that was one of the subjects I half expected to hear that the Opposition had chosen for next Thursday.

Mr. Stonehouse

The Opposition have granted half a Supply Day for a debate on Bangladesh, but has the attention of the Leader of the House been directed to Early-Day Motion No. 291, which has been signed by over half the backbench Members of the House?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to use every possible influence within the United Nations and other international institutions to secure the early establishment of an international aid programme for Bangladesh on the lines of the Marshall Aid Plan for Europe after the Second World War.]

In view of the widespread concern on both sides, will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to make a statement about his intentions early next week, before we come to the debate?

Mr. Carr

I shall certainly discuss that with my right hon. Friend, who has heard what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. I have noted the widespread concern on both sides expressed in the Motion.

Dame Joan Vickers

As the Governernment agreed to take over the Guardianship of Infants Bill, may I ask when it is likely to come forward? I would have brought it forward myself as a Private Member's Bill if they had not given me the understanding that they would do so.

Mr. Carr

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are still anxious to introduce the Bill as soon as we can. I am sorry, but I cannot yet say exactly when that will be, but we are definitely still anxious to introduce it.

Mr. Prentice rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the members of the Opposition Front Bench will allow their back benchers a chance.

Mr. Faulds

Will the Leader of the House open his understanding to the fact that it is totally unacceptable that after the first business on Monday week, which is of cardinal importance, he should tuck into the second half of the day a matter of equal importance, the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Bill? Will he reconsider the matter and give both these important questions a full day's debate?

Mr. Carr

I have already said in response to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) that I shall consider, without commitment, his request for more time for the Vehicle and General debate. If that were to happen, it would have consequential effects, but I shall look at it carefully.

Mr. Worsley

Would not my right hon. Friend accept that the Government have had considerable time to get their point of view clear on the Vehicle and General matter, and that it would be better to have one adequate debate than two debates, as he has suggested?

Mr. Carr

I take note of my hon. Friend's point of view.

Mr. Strauss

Will the Leader of the House bear in mind the need for a full day for the Report stage and Third Reading of the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Bill, not only because the feeling in the whole educational and art world on this matter is as strong as ever, but because that feeling is shared by many hon. Members on his side of the House, in order that the Government should have ample time and opportunity to reconcile their Finance Bill, which will ease taxation by over £1,000 million, with a Bill which imposes a tax of £1 million on museum and gallery visitors?

Mr. Carr

I know that strong views about the matter are held by the right hon. Gentleman and many others. I will consider the question of time, but we must get on with the Bill.

Mr. Deedes

Since it is very unlikely that after the short debate on 1st May about Vehicle and General the Government will, in fact, be able to find an additional day, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, in view of public concern on the matter, the course suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), of extending the debate by three hours, commends itself strongly to a number of us?

Mr. Carr

I am conscious of the feelings that have been expressed, and I mean it when I say that I shall consider them very carefully. I hope my right hon. Friend will understand if I cannot make a commitment at this moment.

Mr. Carter

May I remind the Leader of the House that his predecessor gave a clear indication in writing to me that the Government would find time after Easter for a debate on the Vehicle and General subject? Therefore, does he not feel that there is a clear moral commitment on his part to meet that indication by the former Leader of the House?

Mr. Carr

I cannot go further than what I have said. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gave that commitment. I do not think he ever gave any commitment about how much time would be given. It so happened that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen, through his good fortune in the Ballot and his interest in the subject, has provided some time. But I have taken note of the feelings expressed by hon. Members on both sides that they would like more time than is provided for in the half day, and I shall carefully consider them.

Dame Irene Ward

The guides of London, a very important body, want a special Amendment to the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Bill, and I have asked my noble Friend the Paymaster-General if he would consider what they want. I asked for a quick answer, which I have not received. If we are to have the final stages of the Bill next week, will my right hon. Friend please find out from my noble Friend when he will let me have a reply, so that I can table the Amendment which I want?

Mr. Carr

There have been other occasions when I have tried to help my hon. Friend to receive quicker replies than she was getting. I shall see whether I can help her again.

Dame Irene Ward

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Loughlin

Reverting to the question of land and house prices, may I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the Early-Day Motion in my name and the names of 100 of my hon. Friends—to which his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) has not attached his name, incidentally?

[That this House views with the gravest concern the scandal of ever increasing land prices and the consequent increasing costs of houses; is appalled that a man earning up to £30 per week can no longer secure an adequate mortgage advance with which to purchase a house for himself in an increasing number of areas in Great Britain; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take immediate and drastic action to deal with this situation.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that house prices are now rising by £6 a day? Is it not about time that the Government gave specific time for us to debate serious proposals for dealing with the situation? Would it not be better if the right hon. Gentleman gave us some time next week instead of dealing with some of the business on that week's programme?

Mr. Carr

I agree that it is a very important problem. No one would be better pleased than I if I could suddenly find an extra day next week, or any other week. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's contention that it is more important than getting on with the very important legislation that we have in hand. Monday's business is particularly directed towards alleviating the housing problem.

Mr. McMaster

In view of the suspension of Stormont, continuing and escalating violence in Northern Ireland, loss of life and damage to property, the Scarman and Widgery Reports, with which Northern Ireland Members have been able to deal only briefly at Question Time, and the fact that the Prime Minister says that he considers that Northern Ireland has full democratic rights when we cannot have adequate debates on legislation affecting Northern Ireland, does my right hon. Friend agree that a full debate on Northern Ireland is more than necessary? Would he further agree that this would help to lower the temperature there? Would he arrange an early debate on the affairs of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Carr

I have noted what my hon. Friend said. Obviously, I cannot find a day for this next week, but I will discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Ross

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider something which is of concern to him personally? Does he recollect that he moved, and the House carried, an Allocation of Time Order regarding the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill? Is he aware that since that happened the Government have introduced a new Money Resolution, foreshadowing three new subsidies in respect of part of the Bill on which the guillotine is to fall next Thursday? Is he further aware that no new Clauses or Amendments have yet been tabled? Does this not make a non-sense of the Business sub-Committee and is it not an abuse of the Allocation of Time Order? Will he tell the House what he proposes to do about this?

Mr. Carr

I am afraid that I am not as well informed as I would wish to be—[Hon. Members: "Oh."]—on this matter. I am not complaining, but the right hon. Gentleman did not manage to give me advance notice, and, therefore, I have not had the chance to look into what is a technical and detailed, although important, matter. I will look into it and speak to the right hon. Gentleman about it.

Mr. Urwin

May I revert to the vitally important question of housing and the necessity for an emergency debate on this wide-ranging subject? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the deep feeling of frustration experienced on this side of the House, and no doubt opposite, because what is felt to be a serious matter cannot be dealt with here as a result of the Government's timetable? Does he further realise that this is a burning question, the most topical of the day, with thousands of young people being "rooked" day by day as a result of the rapid escalation in the cost of housing? Can he not find time to enable us to discuss this at an early date?

Mr. Carr

I recognise that this is an important subject, and I should like to find time for it if I could, but I cannot find time for it next week. This is a time of year when Government business is rather congested. This is not the first time it has happened. I cannot promise any time at this moment.

Mr. John Silkin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that between one business statement and another the cost of housing land in the South-East is rising by £250 an acre? While I appreciate what he says about a debate, can he ensure that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment comes to the House and makes a state- ment about what he proposes to do before the next business statement?

Mr. Carr

I will certainly discuss this matter with my right hon. Friend and see whether it is possible for him to make a statement.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the right hon. Gentleman provide Government time, and not leave it to be found from Supply, to debate the report of the Select Committee investigating private practice in the National Health Service in view of the highly controversial conclusions and recommendations in that report, which were controversial not only within the Committee but outside?

Mr. Carr

As with all Select Committee reports, there will be a special report in reply, and the House would be wise to await that special report before there is a debate. Time is provided for the debate of all Select Committee reports. The first stage is to get the special report in reply.

Mr. Palmer

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the House can be given time to debate the Vintner Report on nuclear reactor policy, which could greatly affect the industrial future of this country?

Mr. Carr

I realise that. I have some old interest in and slight knowledge of that subject and appreciate its importance. I am afraid that I cannot promise any time in the immediately foreseeable future.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

May I revert to the reply which the right hon. Gentleman gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) about the difficulties arising from the first guillotine Motion which the Leader of the House has moved on a Bill—and I hope that it will be the only one he moves as long as he is Leader? Does he realise that there are at least three major Amendments to be made and that no time has been allowed for that? Is he aware that unless he moves an Amendment to the guillotine Motion on Monday we shall have a guillotine on Thursday, which will be quite unfair? Does he appreciate that the guillotine will fall on Tuesday and finally on Thursday, and that he cannot say on this occasion "Not next week"? If this is not done on Monday, the Scottish Standing Committee will be denied the chance of debating matters arising from a Financial Resolution passed by this House on Monday of this week? Is this not a grave abuse of the procedure of the House, and ought the right hon. Gentleman not to accept in a reasonable way that the guillotine Motion requires to be amended? Will he do that on Monday?

Mr. Carr

I want to be reasonable about this. I have said that I will look into it and report on it, and I will do so.

Mr. Jay

Would not the best way of easing the problem of parliamentary time and dealing with rising house prices at one and the same time be for the Government to withdraw their Housing Finance Bill altogether?

Mr. Carr

I can imagine no single step which would be more disastrous for the Government to take if we want to get better housing.

Mrs. Renée Short

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that two reports have recently been debated in the other place—the James Report and the Rothschild Report—but no time has been found in this House to debate them yet? Both are far-reaching and contentious in their proposals. Can the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that there will be an opportunity to debate these reports in the near future?

Mr. Carr

I cannot give any definite undertaking at the moment. I realise that these are important subjects, but this is a problem which the House always has. There are far more important subjects than we ever have time to debate. But I will keep this in mind.