HC Deb 03 February 1972 vol 830 cc682-92
Mr. Roy Jenkins

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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 7TH FEBRUARY. Private Members' Motions until Seven o'clock. Afterwards, Second Reading of the Transport (Grants) Bill. Remaining stages of the Iron and Steel Bill.

TUESDAY, 8TH FEBRUARY. Supply [11th allotted day]: There will be a debate on an Opposition Motion on the Coal Industry dispute.

Motion relating to the Industrial Relations (Commencement No. 4) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 9TH FEBRUARY. Debate on a Motion to take note of the First Report from the Select Committee on Expenditure in Session 1970–71, relating to the British Council, and the related Special Report, and, if there it time, of the First Report in Session 1971–72 on Probation and After Care.

Remaining stages of the Local Employment Bill [Lords] and the Summer Time Bill [Lords], which are consolidation Measures.

THURSDAY, 10TH FEBRUARY. Second Reading of the Legal Advice and Assistance Bill. Remaining stages of the Electricity Bill.

FRIDAY, 11TH FEBRUARY. Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 14TH FEBRUARY. Supply [12th allotted day]: Debate on a topic to be announced.

Mr. Jenkins

The right hon. Gentleman and the House will note that we have had to give a Supply Day on Tuesday to get a discussion on the coal industry strike, which has been going on for several weeks. The Government have been very unforthcoming about making a statement on this industrial dispute. Could we have a statement before the debate on Tuesday? Referring back to earlier questions which caused so much concern, I hope that the Government will consider making a statement this evening, but, whatever your decision, Mr. Speaker, about the Private Notice Question, can we have an absolute guarantee that at the latest a statement on this matter will be made tomorrow morning?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the first point I of course appreciate that the Opposition have given their time for a debate on the coal industry dispute. I do not' think it can be said that the Secretary of State has not been forthcoming for he has come to the House whenever he has had something to report.

On the second point, of course I give the right hon. Gentleman the undertaking which he seeks. I think I should say, and I think the House would accept it, that it is very important in these situations, as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) underlined, that all relevant facts should be carefully and properly ascertained before a statement is made to the House. On that basis, certainly I give the undertaking for which the right hon. Gentleman asked.

Mr. Onslow

As it appears from the statement made yesterday about the Foulness Airport project that this will involve a fairly massive shift of the London conurbation eastward as well as the expenditure of about £1,000 million of public money, may I ask whether the House will have an opportunity to debate the matter before any irrevocable commitment is entered into?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what my hon. Friend says. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made a statement about progress in this matter, which was important. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I note what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, or the Minister for Housing and Construction, to make a statement next week about the refusal to see deputations of tenants on the subject of higher rents? As you, Mr. Speaker, know, this has been refused even when such deputations would be accompanied by M.Ps. However, there is a new development. The Minister has stated that he would not see deputations either from tenants or landlords, but would receive written representations only.

This week the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir G. Longden) has revealed, or admitted, that he has taken a deputation of landlords to see the Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] Therefore, I hope that the Leader of the House will put it to the Minister that he should reconsider this refusal and ask him whether he will also see deputations from local authorities, accompanied by their Members of Parliament. Surely when so many are affected so seriously, this matter must be considered. Could we have a statement next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think I set out the position about receiving deputations on a previous occasion. I certainly would wish to check what I said then and naturally I would stick to what I said then. I think it was a reasonable statement, although I cannot remember the exact details. I do not necessarily accept as facts all the other points, but I will look into the whole question.

Sir G. Longden

The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) did not give me notice that he was to raise this matter, but fortunately I was present. The deputation which I took to the Minister was not only long before the Bill was produced, but long before the White Paper—about 12 months ago.

Mr. Gorst

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he has yet been able to conclude that it will be possible for us to debate whether or not we can have the proceedings of the House broadcast on television?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have had various discussions with some hon. Members interested in this matter. I shall have further discussions. I cannot say when this will be, but I am most anxious that, through the usual channels and other contacts, we could discuss the kind of a debate on the basis of which the House could come to a clear decision.

Mr. Ashley

Does the Leader of the House know about the Government's refusal to disclose the number of disabled people on local authority registers and the amount spent on them? Is he aware that this is a departure from normal parliamentary practice? Can we have a debate on it next week?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am afraid that I could not find time for a debate on this matter next week, but I will certainly see that the matter is fully investigated.

Mr. Awdry

If we are to have a statement tomorrow on the tragic death of a miner, could we have a statement on illegal picketing so that everyone in the country may know exactly where he stands?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think I should confine myself to the assurance which I have already given.

Mr. Peart

I want to raise a matter resulting from this morning's proceedings in Standing Committee H, considering the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. It concerns the provisions of that Bill in relation to the E.E.C. legislation. There is a conflict of interpretation. Will the Leader of the House look into the matter and if possible arrange for Law Officers to appear before the Standing Committee?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am assured that no Bill at present before a Standing Committee is expressly affected by the European Communities Bill. I will, however, look into what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Hastings

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to consider again the possibility of a debate on the Bolton Report, since a number of hon. Members are interested in the future of small businesses and would welcome a debate?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the interest and importance of the subject, but I could not give time for a debate in the immediate future. However, I note what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement to the House on what action he proposes to take about the contractors who were putting up crash barriers on the M1 between Watford and Hemel Hempstead and who, instead of using all the material available, sold quite a lot of it to scrap merchants, whereby the crash barriers were rendered unsafe?

Mr. Whitelaw

It would be wrong of me to accept the hon. Gentleman's assertions without knowing anything about the facts. But I will draw what he has said to the attention of my right hon. Friend

Dame Irene Ward

Has my right hon. Friend seen the Early Day Motion standing in my name, about the specific and quite exciting proposals that the new chairman of the Northern Economic Planning Council, Dr. Reid, would like to put before Ministers with regard to further employment in the north of England? Does my right hon. Friend think that they will be able to hear what Dr. Reid has to say'? Could I have some sort of satisfactory answer?

[That, in the opinion of this House, the Chairman of the Northern Economic Planning Council, Dr. Reid, should be immediately invited by Her Majesty Government to present to them in detail his specific and realistic proposals for creating new permanent growth in employment in the North-East and for improving the general climate for expansion, and that after speedy examination by the responsible Ministers, and co-operation by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, action should follow.]

Mr. Whitelaw

My hon. Friend knows my own special interest in the same area. She has already approached me on this matter. I will call it to the attention of my right hon. Friends most closely concerned. They will be only too anxious to hear Dr. Reid's proposals.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is about the twelfth time we have asked for a debate on the proposals for the reform of local government in Scotland, which, he must agree, are as important as those for England and Wales? Since he has each time given a dilatory answer, will he now say that he will some time soon arrange for a debate on these proposals?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am sorry the hon. Gentleman feels that I have been dilatory, but I believe that this matter can properly be debated in the Scottish Grand Committee. I think that is the best place for it. Certainly, that is what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) seems to think.

Mr. Wilkinson

Can my right hon. Friend promise an early debate on foreign affairs not concerned with Europe? Does he recall that, on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House for the Christmas Recess, I asked for a debate on the Indo-Pakistan situation? Since then, we have the recognition of Bangladesh envisaged, and there has been a change in Commonwealth relationships and in the balance of power in Southern Asia. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that at least on the return of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from his Far East and Southern Asia tour we can have a debate on these matters?

Mr. Whitelaw

I take note of these various matters. I cannot say at this stage when such a debate would be possible. Of course, such debates do take place, quite rightly, from time to time.

Mr. Torney

May I revert to the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) on the question of the proceedings in Standing Committee H on the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill? The right hon. Gentleman said that he was not aware of any conflict between the Common Market proposals and any Bill in Standing Committee. Is he aware that this morning in the Standing Committee we sought legal advice? We asked for the presence of a Law Officer to advise us but our request was refused by the Ministers present. As a member of that Standing Committee, I am very seriously concerned about this matter, and I ask that a Law Officer of the Crown be present at a future meeting of the Committee so that we can consider the situation and whether there is a direct connection between the implications of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and the proposals that are shortly to be before the House on the Common Market.

Mr. Whitelaw

I gave the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) the assurance, as far as I was capable of giving it, in a lay manner. I have, of course, undertaken to look into the further points he made. I cannot guarantee to go further than that now.

Mr. Marten

Are we to debate the Second Reading of the European Communities Bill on 15th, 16th and 17th February? If we are, does that mean that we are not going to get a chance to debate the Treaty of Accession before-hand?

Mr. Whitelaw

Last week, various representations were made to me about the timing of the European Communities Bill. I noted those representations and as a result have not included the Second Reading of the Bill in next week's business, as my hon. Friend will have noticed. I will, however, put it down for the following week, which will be three weeks after its publication. It is my present intention to allow three days debate.

Mr. Michael Foot

Since the right hon. Gentleman has made a concession to what we asked for last week, it would certainly be churlish of us not to acknowledge it. But will he take account of the fact that his response does not go as far as we have asked for and that, since we have now been able to examine the Bill more fully, it becomes more and more evident that it includes a more far-reaching and extraordinary abandonment of the powers of this House and the rights of Members than has ever been proposed in any Bill presented to the House?

Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore consider the further postponement of the Second Reading debate, particularly in view of the fact—I give this as one example only—that in Clause 1 reference is made to a whole series of treaties which are covered by the Bill and which the Bill proposes to make part of the law of the land, even though those treaties are not specifically referred to in the Bill or in the Schedule to the Bill? Will he undertake—and this is only one example before we even debate the Bill—to withdraw it and bring forward a new Bill which will include specific references to the treaties which it is proposed to make the law of the land? This, as I say, is only one example of the nature of the Bill, which I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider again postponing, because, if it ever becomes law, it will transform the rights of Members of Parliament.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his earlier remarks to the effect that I had paid attention to the representations made to me last week. I have indeed done so and I think that I have come to a reasonable conclusion. Three weeks is certainly longer than the normal period. I am giving three days for debate and I think I am right in saying that only two other Bills in the last 30 years have had three days on Second Reading. These are reasonable positions for me to take and I shall stand by them. It would not be right for me to follow the hon. Gentleman into arguments which may be deployed when the Bill is debated.

Mr. Cordle

In view of the recent coup in Ghana and the other difficulties on the West Coast of Africa—namely, in Sierra Leone and Nigeria—is it possible for my right hon. Friend to arrange for a debate on these matters very shortly?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am afraid that I could not. I will bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said, but I could not promise a debate on the subject next week.

Mr. Judd

There is a critical situation in Rhodesia and the responsibility for events in that country lies in this House. Hon. Members understand that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is about to leave for a visit to Asia. Can the right hon. Gentleman clarify precisely which Minister will be responsible in London for Rhodesian affairs during the Secretary of State's absence?

Mr. Whitelaw

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. More

In view of the decline in the power and influence of this House which the European Communities Bill must entail, will my right hon. Friend next week consider his own position as Leader of the House, particularly in the light of his statement: I have no intention whatever of leading a House of Commons which is declining in influence … I want to see the effectiveness of this House substantially increased."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1970; Vol. 805, c. 872.] Will he next week make a statement to the House, first, as to his own position in regard to this legislation, and, secondly, his own position in regard to back benchers as Leader of the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

Yes, most certainly. I am always prepared to consider my position, as I am sure many other people are prepared to; and perhaps they would like me to do so. On the serious point, I do not accept for a single moment that the influence of this House or its influence in Europe will decline as a result of Britain joining the European Economic Community. I do not accept that; I believe it is up to the House to make arrangements to ensure that its influence is fully felt in a much wider community than previously, and I certainly believe that it will do so.

Mr. Jay

In view of that answer, will the Leader of the House answer the question I have asked before; whether he considers that the Government's European Economic Community Bill detracts from the principle that no British Parliament can bind its successor?

Mr. Whitelaw

The right hon. Gentleman asked that question last week and I have asked various legal views. As far as I am informed, I understand that the principle is as it has always been in the past, that if another Parliament seeks to repeal any legislation brought before this House it is perfectly entitled to do so.

Mr. Blaker

Before the House debates the European Economic Community Bill, would the right hon. Gentleman consider whether some way could be found of enabling the Leader of the Opposition to make a statement to the House as to how he would have adopted membership of the Community without accepting Community law?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is not for me to answer for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Alfred Morris

With respect, is the Leader of the House aware that the reply he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) would be fiercely contested by many right hon. and hon. Members of the House, including several eminent legal experts? I appreciate that he is trying to be helpful, as is the Chairman of the Committee. Will he make a statement next week, or arrange for the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General to do so, on the predicament in which we find ourselves in that Standing Committee?

Mr. Whitelaw

I gave the position as I understand it to be, and I said I would look into the question put by the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). As far as my experience of life goes, there are very few statements of law which are not contested by some other lawyer.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be warm appreciation of the sentiment he has expressed that this House should so conduct itself that the European Economic Community Bill will not change or in any sense diminish its authority? As the Committee stage of the Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that there will be no Standing Committees sitting at the same time to ensure that Members are not captive upstairs.

Mr. Whitelaw

My hon. Friend is a very clever man, but he has not actually followed the remark I made. I said I believed that this House could so organise itself for the future that it had considerably more influence in a wider Community in Europe. That is what I said and that is what I stand by.

Mr. Ross

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise how many Committees are meeting in the afternoon? As this is a unique Bill of such far-reaching importance, no matter when it is taken there should be the maximum participation on the Floor of the House. Does he agree that it would be quite wrong that probably half the Members of this House should be tied up in meetings of Committees during the afternoon? Will he suspend Committee meetings on Bills during discussion of this particular legislation. I do not feel that this is very amusing, even if the Prime Minister does.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said. Of course, it has been the position with all Governments—and I certainly suffered under it in the last Parliament from the previous Government—that there have been Standing Committees sitting upstairs during discussions on the Floor of the House. If the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends are able to conclude their discussions in the Scottish Standing Committee in reasonable time that will be perfectly all right.

Mr. Maclennan

On the last point regarding the Scottish Standing Committee, has the right hon. Gentleman noted a suggestion made at Scottish Question Time yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that certain crucial matters of Scottish law reform should be considered by the Second Scottish Standing Committee, and has he noted the entirely flippant reply given to that important proposal by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland? Will he now bring this matter to the attention of his right hon. Friends and undertake that these important matters of law reform, for which we are waiting in Scotland, are considered in that Standing Committee?

Mr. Whitelaw

Without accepting the point the hon. Member made about my lion. Friend's reply, I will certainly look into the question he has put to me.