HC Deb 07 December 1972 vol 847 cc1674-85
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)

Yes, Sir.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 11TH DECEMBER—Motion on the Detention of Terrorists (Northern Ireland) Order, until 7 p.m.

Afterwards, Second Reading of the Concorde Aircraft Bill.

TUESDAY, 12TH DECEMBER—Supply (4th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion relating to Industrial Policy.

Motions on the Local Government (Northern Ireland) Orders.

WEDNESDAY, 13TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Fair Trading Bill.

Remaining stages of the National Theatre and Museum of London Bill and of the Post Office (Borrowing) Bill.

THURSDAY, 14TH DECEMBER—Debate on Foreign Affairs, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Customs Duty (Personal Reliefs) (No. 1) Order.

FRIDAY, 15TH DECEMBER—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 18TH DECEMBER—Consideration of Private Members' motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, consideration of procedure motions.

It may be convenient, Mr. Speaker, for the House to know that, subject to progress of business, it is hoped to propose that the House should adjourn for Christmas on Friday, 22nd December and resume on Monday, 22nd January.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that I asked last week about a statement on steel. Will he confirm that there will be a White Paper on the steel industry before Christmas, and that it will be definitive and will go into the statistical and planning points which were discussed across the Floor of the House last week?

Secondly, can he say when the report of the Hardman Committee on the dispersal of Government staffs is to be made available, because the House I am sure will want to take note of it and to debate it?

Thirdly, has the right hon. Gentleman noticed on the Order Paper a motion by the Opposition urging that the Concorde Aircraft Bill, to be debated on Monday, should be referred to a Select Committee?

[After Second Reading of the Concorde Aircraft Bill, to move, That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee.]

Is he aware that we have put down the motion not in a spirit of wanting to hold up the Bill—we have made it clear that we want to facilitate it in every possible way—but because we believe that the House has the right and the duty to get more facts on this question than are being made available?

Finally, when is the Coal Industry Bill to be available?

Mr. Prior

I promised that a statement on the steel industry would be made before Christmas. I will try to see that it is as full as possible. I have never promised a White Paper, and I stick to what I have said in the last three weeks.

Secondly, I understand from Sir Henry Hardman that he is near the closing stages of the preparation of his report, and I take note of the right hon. Gentleman's wish for debate.

Thirdly, the Coal Industry Bill will be available after the weekend, and it is the present intention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement about coal on Monday.

Finally, I have noted what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Concorde Aircraft Bill. My present intention is to propose that the Committee stage should be taken in Standing Committee in the normal way, but that is a matter for the decision of the House on Monday.

Mr. Harold Wilson

We agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Concorde Aircraft Bill. But, on the question of the steel industry, is he aware that some of his answers are liable to make the House suspicious of what is going on, although no doubt that is the last thing that he would want? But if that is what lie does want, then he is succeeding. The House understood last week that there would be a definitive statement. I asked then whether it would contain figures of the production and investment plans and so on, and he undertook to look into the point and said that he would probably contact me, which I do not think he has done. In view of the widespread suspicion that there is to be merely a holding statement—we have had such statements time and again in this Parliament—will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be before Christmas, so that we can debate it soon after Christmas, a full statement, whether in a White Paper or by other means, give the fullest possible details about steel capacity, the investment programme and regional plans?

Mr. Prior

I made it plain to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be a definitive statement. It was not intended that it should be a holding statement. I never gave any guarantee about there being a White Paper, but I recognise the interest of the House in this important subject, and I thought I had gone out of my way to try to give it this information at the earliest possible moment.

Dame Irene Ward

May I ask my right hon. Friend about Tuesday's business? I understood that the Supply Day debate would be on shipbuilding, shipping and so on. It is most important that the House should know in detail whether it will be on shipbuilding, shipping and marine engineering. In particular, if I may say so with modesty, I want to make it perfectly plain to my Government that I hope we shall have a policy which the shipbuilders, the shipping people, the employees and those in the Conservative Party who want to see employment on Tyneside and other areas can put fully into effect. Therefore, I want to know whether the debate will be on shipbuilding, shipping and marine engineering, so that we cannot have a far-flung debate, which would enable the Government to skip out of saying what our industrial policy on these very important industries will be.

Mr. Prior

It falls to the Opposition to put down the motion, and it is for them to decide the business.

Mr. Harold Wilson

To help save the time of the House and to reassure the right hon. Lady, may I ask the Leader of the House to take note, if he is not already aware, that the motion we are tabling today specifically refers to the shipbuilding industry, among others, though it is not exclusively related to shipbuilding and machine tools, which are mentioned. In view of the hon. Lady's many requests to her own Front Bench for satisfaction, we are delighted to feel that she is getting that satisfaction from us.

Mr. Atkinson

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the dismay caused by his statement that we axe to have an extraordinarily long recess, until 22nd January, which can only mean that the Government have already decided to extend the 90-day wage freeze into the further period advocated in the Act? The right hon. Gentleman has not yet announced when we are to discuss phase 2 of the freeze period. If he works out the dates he will see that if we are to return on 22nd January and there is to be on 5th February the introduction of phase 2, there is not likely to be any lengthy discussion in the House, but merely an announcement from the Government. Can we now take it that they have no intention other than to extend the 90 days by a further 50 days?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. The hon. Gentleman should not read into a fairly straightforward statement about the length of the recess any details about Government policies. All I can tell him is that the recess covers 30 clear days, which, to my regret, is rather less than the average Christmas Recess over the period since the war, but, to my delight, rather more than the average for the past 10 years.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Does my right hon. Friend recall the assurances that we should have a full opportunity to discuss developments in the Common Market? As it was announced yesterday that our Government had agreed to a Common Market budget of £1,850 million, which is considerably more than the estimate for 1977 in the White Paper, should not we have at least a statement on the Common Market budget and why we agreed to it, and a full debate on the reasons behind it?

Mr. Prior

I think that some of the matters raised by my hon. Friend would be in order in the debate on foreign affairs next week.

Mr. George Cunningham

With regard to the procedure motion which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned for Monday week and the motions to give effect to some of the recommendations of the Select Committee on parliamentary Questions, will the right hon. Gentleman say how the Government intend so to phrase the motion that it will be possible for the House to discuss the Committee's recommendations on the fixing of Questions by Ministers as well as changes in other procedural matters?

Mr. Prior

One of the procedural matters that it is proposed we should discuss on Monday week is the Select Committee's report on Question Time. The hon. Gentleman will have seen the Written Answer yesterday to my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton). I shall be putting down the necessary motions in a day or two.

Mr. Grylls

When will my right hon. Friend be able to find time for an early debate on the Government's very progressive White Paper on education, issued yesterday, which I am sure we should like to consider?

Mr. Prior

I am certain that the House will want an early opportunity to debate this important White Paper, and I hope very much that we can debate it soon after our return from the recess.

Mr. George Grant

The whole House will have welcomed the right hon. Gentleman's announcement that a Coal Industry Bill will be presented next week. Will it be debated before the Christmas Recess?

Mr. Prior

Subject to the business of the House, I hope very much that we shall be able to debate it on Second Reading before Christmas.

Mr. Crouch

When may we have an opportunity to discuss the proposed new parliamentary building? The Europeans are already laying the foundations for strengthening the European Parliament. Does not my right hon. Friend think that the strengthening is required here, and that we need an extension as soon as possible?

Mr. Prior

I agree that the problems of accommodation grow more acute each day, and that it would be appropriate to find time within the not-too-distant future for a debate on this very important subject.

Mr. Michael Cocks

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider Motion No. 60, signed by over 100 Members on both sides, urging the Government to ensure that official poll cards are ready for the first elections to the new authorities?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to ensure that official poll cards are issued for the first elections of the local authorities to be held in 1973.]

May we have a statement about the matter before Christmas, because such cards will be invaluable not only in helping people to exercise their democratic rights but in familiarising them with the new electoral set-up?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary believes that for the first elections the issue of official poll cards should not be prescribed but should be allowed at local discretion. Accordingly, provision will be made in the local election rules, which my right hon. Friend will soon lay before Parliament.

Captain Orr

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the inadequacy of time devoted to Northern Ireland matters in this House, but we appreciate his difficulties. Can he say, in particular, whether we shall know before we rise the date of the Northern Ireland poll and have the regulation to bring it into effect? Shall we have time to debate the report of the chief constable?

Mr. Prior

I am not aware that Northern Ireland does not have enough time for debate on the Floor of the House. I think that even my hon. and gallant Friend and his colleagues will admit that on the whole we have been more than generous with Northern Ireland time on the Floor of the House in the past six weeks. But I have noted what he said about the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of the date of the border poll, and I shall convey that to my right hon. Friend. I think that we should know a little more about it before Christmas.

Mr. Michael Foot

To return to the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor), does the Leader of the House appreciate that it would be quite unsatisfactory to suggest that the question of the British Government's contribution to the Community budget could be settled in a general foreign affairs debate dealing with all matters? Therefore, will he tell the House now—he must be fully informed on the matter—under what provision, and when, he proposes to ask for the approval of the House for the suggestions?

Mr. Prior

There will be ample opportunities to debate European matters over the coming months, and undoubtedly the budget will come up on one of those occasions.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Further to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is the precise proposal for the House to vote a budget? Over hundreds of years we have had our own methods clearly set out with the fullest safeguards for the voting of a national budget here. Now we are presented with a bill for the Community budget far exceeding what the House was told two years ago. What procedure will be followed? Will there be appropriation procedures, or what? It is not good enough to say that there will be debates—Adjournment debates, foreign affairs debates. Will he tell us what the Government have decided about voting the budget with the authority of the House?

Mr. Prior

Many of the procedures, it was hoped, and I still hope, can be discussed by the joint committee on procedural matters that we hope to set up. As soon as we can set it up, we can get down to discussing these matters.

Mr. Marten

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that we want to discuss these matters on the Floor of the House? We are not concerned with ad hoc or any other ad committees; we want to discuss them here. Is he aware of increasing anxiety among those of us who are interested in the country's—[Interruption.]—I have not finished yet—who are interested in the country's position in the Common Market that we are not getting the draft directives that are around and should be made available to hon. Members so that we can debate in good time before any decisions are taken?

Mr. Prior

I shall not take it from my hon. Friend or anyone else that I am not interested in my country. But I recognise that there is keen interest in having debates on the Floor of the House. That is one of the matters that could be discussed in the ad hoc committee on procedural matters, and then we could decide how best items can be brought to the Floor of the House.

Mr. McBride

Welsh Labour Members fear that the Government have decided to abandon the discussion of Welsh affairs on the Floor of the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman say when a day will be devoted to a discussion of Welsh affairs? His right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary will tell him that a day is owed to Welsh Members. In view of the matters affecting the Welsh economy, in which steel is an important constituent part, will he say when that will occur?

Mr. Prior

I recognise the interest of the hon. Gentleman and of his hon. Friends. I hope very much to arrange a debate on Welsh affairs fairly soon, or very soon after we return from the Christmas Recess.

Mr. Buchan

Has the Leader of the House seen the motion on the Chrysler Corporation signed by myself and many of my hon. Friends?

[That this House, conscious of the vital importance of the British motor-car industry to the British economy, concerned that decisions affecting it are increasingly being made outside this country, and mindful of assurances given by successive Governments that the British interest in Chrysler, United Kingdom should be preserved, calls on the Government to take immediate action to prevent this further United States takeover.]

In view of the serious concern expressed on both sides yesterday and the frivolous statement of the Minister for Industrial Development, may we have an early debate on the issue and the related issue of the future of the motor car industry in Britain?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. I listened to the exchanges yesterday and I thought that my right hon. Friend gave a very satisfactory explanation.

Mr. Heffer

When shall we have a statement on the question of the bridge disaster at Reading, and when shall we have a debate on the whole issue of safety in the construction industry?

Mr. Prior

I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, as I promised last week. He is awaiting the final report from the Murrison Committee on the basis of the design and the method of erection of large steel box girder bridges. After the report has been received I shall ask him whether he can make a statement to the House.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

When do the Government intend to announce the names of those of our colleagues who will serve on the European Parliament? Will it be before Christmas, so that at least their wives and families can enjoy having them, knowing that they will not see much of them afterwards?

Mr. Prior

The announcement will be made in the fairly near future, and I certainly hope before Christmas.

Mr. J. T. Price

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House any information about the large number of Boundary Commission reports which are reported to be in the pipeline? Will any of them be taken before Christmas? Will good notice be given, and will they be debated at a reasonable time? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I am anxious to oppose certain Boundary Commission orders relating to my part of Lancashire, and that if they are taken in the middle of the night or at some other odd time, such as late on a Friday afternoon, going through on the nod, just as arrangements for the business going on in the yard outside were carried on behind the scenes, many hon. Members will feel that justice has not been done? May we have some information? These matters are important to many hon. Members, and we do not want to have them merely pushed under the carpet at an odd time when there is no one here.

Mr. Prior

I presume that the hon. Gentleman is talking about the district Boundary Commissions. I have noted what he said. Their recommendations certainly will not be debated next week, but they will have to debated before very long.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Would my right hon. Friend revert to the question of our procedures relating to Europe and particularly the European budget? Could he set a deadline concerning the question of co-operation with the Opposition, because if there is to be no such co-operation the Government will surely have to give their own unilateral decision. Time is getting short. Could my right hon. Friend tell us when that unilateral decision will be made?

Mr. Prior

I still hope that the House as a whole will arrive at sensible procedures for discussing these very important matters.

Mr. Mendelson

Reverting to the right hon. Gentleman's statement about a future statement on the steel industry, will he remember that in the steel areas there is a growing demand for the Government to live up to their responsibilities? Does he recall that during his predecessor's term of office an undertaking was given that because the Government are directly responsible, and the matter was delayed to allow the Steel Corporation to submit proposals to the Government, the Government are obliged to give an undertaking that the statement will contain all the future details concerning investment programmes so that the responsibility of the Government may be clearly seen, and that any attempt to say that details will still be left to some other body will be wholly unacceptable to the House?

Mr. Prior

I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said. I note that the House wants as full a statement as can be given. I shall do my best to see that that is carried out.

Mrs. Renée Short

Has the Leader of the House been informed that yesterday it was necessary to call the Permanent Secretary to the Department of Health and Social Security before an Expenditure Committee of this House to try to obtain from him an explanation concerning the long delay in the ministerial reply to the Report on Private Practice? Is he further aware that the reply we received indicated that we are not likely to receive this much before Easter? As the report was published and available to the public and the House on 29th March 1972, this would represent an unprecedented delay of one year before the House receives the reply from the Department. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think this is a scandalous way to treat a Select Committee of this House? Can he say what steps he took when I raised the matter with him a fortnight ago during business questions and what action he intends to take to see that the House is treated in the correct manner by the Department?

Mr. Prior

The subject of this report is highly controversial. I knew that the Permanent Secretary to the Department of Health and Social Security was being called in front of the Committee again. I knew that the hon. Member would obtain those explanations from the Permanent Secretary. I have noted what the hon. Lady said about the length of time.

Mr. Urwin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, having conceded that there will be a debate on Welsh Affairs at a fairly early date, he has almost accepted the responsibility to give time for a similar debate on the matters concerning the Northern Region, as we, too, are involved in the intractable problem of unemployment in the steel, shipbuilding and coal industries? One bears in mind that Wales and Scotland have their own separate days for Questions in addition to the lengthy period of time allocated to Northern Ireland Questions.

Mr. Prior

That shows the sort of difficulty one gets into. The Welsh have always had a special day on the Floor of the House for their affairs. I am fulfilling an undertaking on that point. The hon. Gentleman knows that coal will be discussed under the Coal Industry Bill. I have promised a statement on steel. The motion for debate on Tuesday on the Opposition Supply Day will give an opportunity to debate the other matters to which he referred.