HC Deb 14 December 1972 vol 848 cc631-43
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business of the House for the last week before the recess?

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

The business for next week will be as follows:—

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

Afterwards, consideration of Procedure motions.

Remaining stages of the Housing (Amendment) Bill.

Motion on the Maximum Number of Judges Order.

TUESDAY, 19TH DECEMBER—Debate on Welsh Affairs, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the European Parliament.

WEDNESDAY, 20TH DECEMBER—Motions on the Rate Support Grant Orders, and on the English Non-Metropolitan Districts (Definition) Order.

THURSDAY, 21ST DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill.

Motions on the Northern Ireland Orders on Water and Sewerage Services, and on Drainage.

FRIDAY, 22ND DECEMBER—Christmas Adjournment motions.

Mr. Wilson

What day will the House debate the motion for the Adjournment? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that it will not be one of those Friday occasions which were criticised previously? Secondly, will he tell us on what day next week we can expect the statement on the steel industry? Will he give an assurance that when we have that statement it will set out the Government's intentions about the size of the industry over the next few years, its pricing policy and the areas and steel works likely to be affected by the Government's decisions?

Thirdly, as the Government spokesman in another place has had to inform noble Lords that information given by the Government to both Houses about North Sea gas and oil and the percentage of public participation involved was very badly wrong and has been corrected, will he arrange for one of his colleagues to make a statement next week to this House, so that we may press him on this matter and find out how it happened that the figure is so desperately low compared with the policy laid down by the previous Government?

Mr. Prior

We hope to take the Adjournment Motion on Wednesday. If not, it will have to be on Tuesday. At the moment I think it will be Wednesday. I will report to my right hon. Friend what the right hon. Gentleman said about North Sea gas. I know that I have twice promised the House that a definitive statement on steel would be made before the recess. In view of the major nature of the decisions and of the questions to which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention, and because there are important consultations still going on with the industry, it may not be possible to make that statement before Christmas, although my right hon. Friend has every intention of doing so if it is possible.

Mr. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House has been kept waiting for a Government policy on steel for 2½ years? Is he further aware that we have had promise after promise, month after month, that there would be a statement and that all we have got at the end is this piddling proposal about a range from 28 million tons to 36 million tons, which is utterly meaningless for steel planning? May we have some assurance that the Government will make up their mind?

Mr. Prior

The Government only recently received proposals from the British Steel Corporation, at the end of October—

Mr. Kaufman

At the beginning of October.

Mr. Prior

As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, these are important issues. I still hope that a full statement will be made next week, but I am certain that it is for the benefit of the House and the country and those engaged in the steel industry that we should get this right because these are issues of such long-term importance for the industry.

Sir Bernard Braine

May I again draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to Early Day Motion No. 1?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to reconsider its view as set out in its Green Paper on Select Committees of the House of Commons published in October 1970, and to recommend to the House that a Select Committee on Overseas Development be established, whose functions would include the review and appraisal of British performance in relation to the International Development Strategy for the Second United Nations Development Decade.]

This calls for a Select Committee on overseas development and to date it has attracted exactly 200 signatures from Members on both sides of the House. May I ask whether my right hon. Friend is yet in a position to give any indication about the Government's thinking on the subject?

Mr. Prior

It would be useful if I were to discuss with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members the prospects for setting up such a committee. I will then discuss it further with my right hon. Friend. I can say that we are well disposed towards the establishment of this committee.

Mr. Prescott

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Early Day Motion No. 72?

[That the Merchant Shipping (Disciplinary Offences) Regulations 1972 (S.I., 1972, No. 1294), dated 17th August 1972, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th August, in the last Session of Parliament, be withdrawn.]

This relates to the 1972 Merchant Shipping Act and Statutory Instrument No. 1294 and it is signed by myself and a number of other hon. Members. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that under the Merchant Shipping Act over 30 sets of regulations will be issued and that another 10 regulations are before the House which will come into being on 1st January? Is he further aware that these regulations are controversial and comprehensive in that they raise the issue, with which hon. Members will be concerned, of a seaman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] It may be, but this is an important point. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the regulations allow sums to be deducted for civil damages from a seaman's wages without taking him to the court? Is he further aware that the previous Leader of the House promised the Chairman of the Statutory Instruments Committee that we should have time to debate these regulations? Will the right hon. Gentleman review this and give us time for a debate?

Mr. Prior

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but there will not be time to debate these Prayers next week. We should find time to debate them when we return after the recess, even though they may be out of time.

Mr. Waddington

Reverting to the business on Tuesday evening, will my right hon. Friend rest assured that the public will draw the right conclusions from the fatuous behaviour of the Leader of the Opposition, who for months has bleated on about his wish to renegotiate the terms of British entry into the European Community but who is not even prepared to allow Members of his party to be represented in the European Parliament where these matters could be discussed.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is an abuse.

Mr. Prior

There will be a short debate on this on Tuesday evening.

Mr. Bottomley

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether there has been a change in steel policy consequent upon a new Minister taking over? Is he aware that Members of Parliament from Teesside, the mayor, and several local Government representatives have been called to London three times expecting a decision? Why is there a delay?

Mr. Prior

I apologise for the delay. I still hope that the undertakings I have given will be fulfilled next week. I think it is right, however, to tell the House at the earliest moment that this may not be possible. I must stress that this is a major matter of long-term importance to many hon. and right hon. Members. The statement must be a full one to deal with the serious problems involved.

Mr. Fell

What does my right hon. Friend intend to do about the obvious need for the House to discuss the statement made by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services earlier this week which is of the greatest importance to every young family—and even to older families? When will he provide time for a debate on family planning?

Mr. Prior

I know my hon. Friend's concern about this, but I cannot promise an early debate. I am not certain that we shall be able to find Government time for a debate on this subject, but I will of course, consider what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. David Steel

Is the Leader of the House aware that over many weeks hon. Members on both sides of the House have been asking who is to be the new Chairman of the BBC? Will he represent to his colleagues that we are becoming increasingly impatient when we read answers to these questions in the newspapers?

Mr. Prior

The name of the new chairman was announced this morning. The appointment of the new chairman has been a remarkably well-kept secret.

Dame Irene Ward

As we shall be debating the Coal Industry Bill on Thursday, will my right hon. Friend say whether before that day the Government will issue a White Paper on the subject or whether a statement will be made to give the House the detailed information which is not suitable for inclusion in the Bill?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend made a statement earlier this week and he will have an opportunity of making a speech on moving the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope that he will be able to satisfy my hon. Friend's wishes in this respect.

Mr. Callaghan

The Minister has made an apology in case he cannot carry out his promise to make a statement on steel before the recess. Is he aware that, whilst that apology will be accepted in a personal capacity, it does not remove the strong criticism which is felt of the Government's failure in this matter? Is he aware that, after all the consideration that has been given to the subject over two years at least, what he is saying now is a sign not of further consideration but of indecision, vacillation and change of mind? Is he further aware that in Cardiff 4,500 men are waiting in a steel works to know their fate—whether they will be out of a job? After Ebbw Vale, this is a particularly dangerous moment. I press the right hon. Gentleman strongly to get this statement out. Is he further aware that, on the basis of the promise he gave to the House, arrangements have already been made for Lord Melchett and the Chairman of Guest Keen and Nettle-folds to come to Cardiff on 29th December to tell the men their fate? Is this to be postponed?

Mr. Prior

We must await next week, when I will inform the House at the earliest possible moment whether a statement is to be made. It is precisely because of the serious implications involved that it is taking longer.

Mr. Cordle

Has the Leader of the House seen Motions Nos. 6, 11 and 13 which deal with the export for slaughter of live cattle, and may we have an early debate on this subject after Christmas?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to replace the export trade in live cattle by a carcase trade, as recommended by the Balfour Committee 15 years ago.]

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to make the strongest representations to the Council of Ministers and/or the Commission of the European Economic Community that humane methods of killing cattle should be speedily implemented within the Community of Nine; and further recommends that Her Majesty's Government should re-examine the validity of the first recommendation of the committee of inquiry into the export of live cattle to the Continent for slaughter, published in April 1957, which said that except to a very limited extent the alternative of a carcase trade is not feasible.]

[That this House, realising the suffering that can be inflicted upon cattle, sheep and other animals exported alive for slaughter overseas, and in view of the fact that experience has shown the impossibility of enforcing the safeguards implicit in the Baifour Assurances, even in countries that have undertaken to observe them, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation to ensure that the present export of such live animals is replaced by a carcase-only trade, thus ensuring that they will be slaughtered under the humane conditions prevailing in British abattoirs, and that benefits accrue to the British economy from the processing of the animal by-products.]

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is sitting next to me, heard what my hon. Friend said. I cannot promise an early debate.

Mr. Faulds

What arrangements have been made by the right hon. Gentleman for the preparation during the recess of a new edition of the House of Commons' internal telephone directory, as many hon. Members and their secretaries—including my indomitable Miss MacDonald—are not included in the present edition?

Mr. Prior

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman's telephone number is not included. This is a matter for the Services Committee, and I will ask for a check to be made on how many other hon. Members are in the same position.

Mr. Marten

Will my right hon. Friend say on which day next week he will make a statement setting out the arrangements whereby hon. Members may get copies of all the regulations and directives which are being produced by the European Communities, so that we can have them in English by 1st January?

Mr. Prior

I should like notice of my hon. Friend's question. I will have a look at this and try to give him an answer during the Adjournment debate next week.

Mrs. Castle

Is the Leader of the House aware that on Tuesday I shall try, through a Ten-Minute Rule Bill, to correct the harsh anomaly in the Government's provisions for the Christmas bonus for old-age pensioners, under which hundreds of pensioners have been denied their £10 thanks to the operation of the earnings rule? Is he further aware that I have sent a draft of the Bill to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and have asked him to see that the Government give facilities to my Bill or to introduce one of his own, which I am sure the House will be glad to facilitate in the next few days? May we have one measure or the other?

Mr. Prior

I recognise the strong feelings on this subject on both sides of the House, as does my right hon. Friend. From what the right hon. Lady has said, I know that she will be pleased that about 8 million pensioners have received the £10 bonus—

Mrs. Castle

That is not the point.

Mr. Prior

—and many appreciative letters have been received.

Mr. Charles Morrison

As did my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), I emphasise to my right hon. Friend the need to make proper arrangements as early as possible to ensure that all hon. Members are fully informed about the draft regulations and directives in connection with the Common Market and other matters pertaining thereto.

Mr. Prior

Yes, I will look at this and report back.

Mr. Edward Short

May I press the right hon. Gentleman on the dreadful and unfair anomaly put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle)? Will he discuss the matter with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and with us through the usual channels and, if the Government are not prepared to take up my right hon. Friend's Bill, will they bring in a short Bill of their own next week? I assure him on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends that we will facilitate the passage of the Bill through all its stages any day next week.

Mr. Prior

I am already discussing this with my right hon. Friend but I do not want to be drawn into the second half of what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

Will my right hon. Friend ensure an early debate on education when we return after the recess in view of the interest that has been taken in the White Paper which was published last week?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. I hope that fairly soon after we return we shall have a debate on education.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

In view of the personal assurances given by the Leader of the House to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in connection with the Railway Gazette incident, does not he feel that the combination of the Theft Act and the Official Secrets Act represents a sinister and dangerous threat to the people and the Press? Is he aware that the Attorney-General has written to me asking me to retract what I said in the House on Monday—that we had been given no answer so far? Is not this not only an attempt to muzzle the freedom of the Press but also to muzzle the freedom of the House? Is it not time that we had a debate on the Government's intentions on the report on the Official Secrets Act?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. I have nothing to add to the answers given at Question Time today and on Tuesday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Frederick Lee

However detailed the scheme of the British Steel Corporation may be, will the statement to be made, I hope next week, justify the Government's use of public money in grants and subsidies to enable private enterprise to open mini-steel mills while the BSC is closing down big mills in steel areas?

Mr. Prior

That is a question which should be directed to my right hon. Friend, and I will inform him of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman can be in no doubt whatever about the feeling of the House on steel. Will he take note that the Opposition wanted to devote our first Supply Day to steel but, because of the assurances we received about a statement being made, we thought that it would be more meaningful to await the statement—and we hope still to have that statement and the debate before Christmas? Is he aware trat my hon. and right hon. Friends will not be able to tolerate the delay going beyond next week? That will be equally true if next week's statement is either thrown at us on Friday or does not contain all the information which the industry needs to deal with the anxieties of all those concerned.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread understanding of a divided Cabinet and vacillation on this question? Will he therefore insist—and I am trying to help him—that we get a definitive statement, otherwise we shall force one out of him as soon as the House comes back by a motion of censure, which on such a serious issue as this we would rather have debated on the basis of a White Paper.

Mr. Prior

I recognise that parts of what the right hon. Gentleman said were said to try to help me. I can give him an absolute assurance that any talk about the Cabinet being divided on the issue is complete and utter nonsense.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am in a difficulty. I have a very long list of speakers for the Foreign Affairs debate. I also have another item of business. I cannot allow this debate to go much further.

Mr. Booth

Has the Leader of the House read the proposal made by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments to his predecessor before the summer recess for dealing with all the regulations under the Merchant Shipping Act 1970 which will come into effect on 1st January next year? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the reply which was sent to the Committee in July which indicated a willingness to discuss the matter through the usual channels?

In view of that reply, is it not intolerable that now, on the last business statement before the recess, it should be suggested that there should be an out-of-time prayer next year, after the regulations are in force? Is it not recognised that the regulations are every bit as important to seamen as the Industrial Relations Act is important to those engaged in land-based employment? Therefore, there should be a full day's debate on the regulations before they come into effect.

Mr. Prior

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes that view. Praying time expired on 16th November, which is some while ago. This is the first time at business questions that the matter has been raised with me. All that I can do is to say that we shall make time for a prayer when we come back, although officially time has expired.

Mr. Ross

Can the Leader of the House tell us when he will re-establish the Scottish Select Committee? Secondly, bearing in mind that he stated that the Cabinet is not split on steel, which is of vital importance to the whole of Scottish industry, will he look at what the Secretary of State for Scotland said yesterday, when he said that he was leading the fight for Scottish steel? Will he tell us whom he is fighting?

Mr. Prior

The Secretary of State for Scotland is naturally leading the fight for the people of Scotland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Against whom?"] Certainly not against his colleagues in the Government. Hon. Members can draw their own conclusions. They are not hard to draw.

As far as the Scottish Select Committee is concerned, I have been having some informal discussions. I am not yet ready to make any further statement.

Sir G. de Freitas

Will the Leader of the House go away from the House this afternoon realising that many hon. Members representing steel constituencies feel that they have been tricked by the Government? The Leader of the House should consider the matter seriously.

Mr. Prior

I have already apologised to the House twice this afternoon, and I apologise a third time. I still hope that a decision will be announced next week.

Mr. James Johnson

Why is not time being given to a matter which is of vital importance to all those in our town halls and local government offices, namely, the evidence of the Boundary Commission? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the matter is subject to an affirmative motion and must be debated before coming into effect?

Mr. Prior

The orders will be debated on Wednesday 20th December.

Mr. J. T. Price

May I refer to a specific item of business which was announced today by the Leader of the House for next Wednesday, namely, the Boundary Commission orders? The right hon. Gentleman may recollect that he gave me an assurance last Thursday that time would be provided to debate this most important matter. The document in my hands consists of 44 pages dealing with the boundaries defined for all the non-metropolitan districts of England and Wales. The matter cannot be debated after ten o'clock at night within an hour and a half without a gross abuse of parliamentary procedure.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as recently as this morning I approached the Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment with an urgent plea that more adequate time should be provided for debating this most important matter? It is not a fulfilment of the undertaking which I was given merely to be told to come here at half past ten to twelve o'clock at night to deal with a matter which needs proper time for debate.

Mr. Prior

We must get the orders through before 1st January. If further time is required on Wednesday evening, we shall consider that.

Mr. Thorpe

May I press the right hon. Gentleman on what he means by consideration being given to the requirement of further time? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the orders deal with whole communities and with the future of those communities? Is he aware that there is a very great local opposition to some of the proposals? Who is to be the arbiter of how much further time is required? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no Government have ever thought that further time is required unless there has been one hell of a row the week before? Will he take notice that he will have one?

Mr. Prior

I am prepared to consult through the usual channels about whether we should have a suspension of the rule, which will enable more time for this important matter to be discussed.

Mr. John Morris

Is the Leader of the House aware that a number of soldiers returning from Germany from a tour of duty of more than 12 months have been obliged to pay duty and purchase tax on their motor cars because their service was interrupted by four months in Northern Ireland? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these men are now being obliged to pay for serving in Northern Ireland in that way? Will he ensure that a statement is made early next week to remove this grave and scandalous anomaly?

Mr. Prior

I will draw the matter to the attention of my right lion. Friends.


Mr. Kaufman

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In reply to a question put by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the House inadvertently made a slip, and I am sure that he would wish to correct it before it goes on the record. In talking about the arrival at the Department of Trade and Industry of the British Steel Corporation's long-term plan, he said it had arrived at the end of October, whereas previously both he and his right hon. Friends have said that it arrived there at the begining of October.

Mr. Prior

If I have made a mistake and the plan arrived at the beginning of October and not at the end, I apologise and I will see that it is corrected.