HC Deb 10 February 1972 vol 830 cc1574-88
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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 14TH FEBRUARY.—Consideration of the Message on behalf of The Queen and of the Motion to approve the Emergency Regulations.

Remaining stages of the Transport (Grants) Bill.

TUESDAY, 15TH FEBRUARY, WEDNESDAY, 16TH FEBRUARY, THURSDAY, 17TH FEBRUARY.—Second Reading of the European Communities Bill.

FRIDAY, I 8TH FEBRUARY.—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 21ST FEBRUARY.—Supply (12th allotted day): Debate on a topic to be announced.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Has the right hon. Gentleman received any representations from any part of the House to extend the debate on the Second Reading of the European Communities Bill by one hour on the earlier evenings before the day of the vote, and will he give consideration to that suggestion if it is put to him? Secondly, having heard, as he will have, the exchanges on Rhodesia this afternoon, will he undertake to do his best to get a statement in the House next week about the suggestion for an all-party mission which was put forward a very long time ago? Would he not agree that the House has shown great forbearance in wanting to debate the unwarrantable exclusion from Rhodesia of hon. and right hon. Members of this House as well as former Members, lawyers and others needed for the work of the Commission? The principle of an all-party mission has been accepted, however reluctantly, provided that this House and not Mr. Smith decides who goes. In these circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to do his best to make a statement next week on when the all-party mission will leave, because the Commission is rapidly approaching the end of its timetable?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I have not received any representations so far, but I am very ready to discuss any such representations through the usual channels or from any part of the House. On the second point, I note what the right hon. Gentleman says and I will be in contact with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I recognise my own responsibility in this matter as Leader of the House, as far as parliamentary delegations are concerned, and will certainly continue to have discussions through the usual channels. No one is more anxious than I am to see that this matter comes to a sensible and proper conclusion.

Mr. Gardner

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in considering the business for next week bear in mind the need for a ministerial statement, immediately or as soon as it can be made, on the serious situation that has arisen from the unauthorised and premature publication of what purport to be the findings of a committee of inquiry into alleged malpractices at the Whittingham mental hospital in my constituency? Is he aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services told this House, in answer to my Question last week, that he hopes to publish these findings in the form of a Command Paper on 15th February? Is he further aware that today a medical journal published allegations of scandalous misconduct including allegations that doctors have deliberately neglected the mentally sick and have stolen thousands of pounds belonging to patients, and that these allegations hang like a threat over the reputations and the future of many people connected with the hospital? Will he please see if we can have a statement from the Minister concerned, if possible tomorrow?

Mr. Whitelaw

My hon. and learned Friend is perfectly correct. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services promised that this report would be published next Tuesday, 15th February. As a result of what I heard was published today I have been in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and he will make an oral statement to the House on Tuesday next, the day the report is published.

Mr. C. Pannell

The Leader of the House will be aware that there are two Motions on the Order Paper, one which reflects on the conduct of Mr. Speaker.

[That this House dissents from the intention of Mr. Speaker to address the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed by a style and title which he has disclaimed and therefore has no right to use; notes the assurances in the House by the Leader of the House and Mr. Attorney-General, respectively, during the second reading of the Peerage Bill in June 1963 that the effect of the Bill on the rules of the House would be that a Member disclaiming a peerage would be a commoner and would be described in the records of the House as Mr.: notes also that these were accepted as correct statements of the effect of the Bill by the House at that time: and regrets that, by reversing the decision of his predecessor which was made in the light of these statements and the advice then given to him by those officially concerned. Mr. Speaker should have impinged upon the privileges of both Houses.]

and one which reflects on the nobility of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Lord Lambton).

[That the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, having disclaimed his peerage, has no right to be addressed in this House by any of the titles pertaining to that peerage.]

The right hon. Gentleman will understand with me that they should not be allowed to clutter up the Order Paper for any longer time than is necessary, out of respect to Mr. Speaker particularly. Could he, therefore, indicate what he proposes to do about that Motion at the earliest possible date?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way he has put his question. I know he would feel, with me, that when time is provided for a debate on such a Motion it should be of reasonably short duration, but equally it should be at a reasonable hour. I believe the right hon. Gentleman equally would accept that it would be difficult for me to provide such a short time at a reasonable hour next week. I will, however, undertake to provide such a debate at a reasonable hour the week after next.

Dame Joan Vickers

May I ask my right hon. Friend, in view of the three-day debate on the European Communities Bill, whether he can give the House any indication of how this is to be conducted and which Ministers are to answer on respective days?

Mr. Whitelaw

I can do so, but not at this moment. I shall be pleased to make sure that the hon. Lady receives this information, and also the House.

Mr. Michael Foot

Does the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House accept that legislation about the European Communities that he will be asking the House to consider next week, and possibly in subsequent weeks, is unique in the sense that it involves an alteration in the powers and rights of this House of Commons, and that, therefore, a special duty falls upon him, as Leader of the House, to ensure that every Member of Parliament who wishes to participate in those debates will have opportunity to do so? Does he recognise that that will not be the case unless he withdraws or abandons some of the legislation that he is now seeking to push into Committees upstairs? Does he recognise that the log-jam which is occurring through attempting to push those Measures through is bad enough already but that the strain on hon. Members of this House and, even more important, the denial of the right to Members of this House to participate in the debates on the European Communities, will be intolerable if they proceed on this basis? Therefore, will he review the whole of this question and come forward with proposals which will enable that log-jam to be broken by the withdrawal of some Measures to enable Members of Parliament to participate in this unique debate?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am always nervous of accepting that anything in this House or in this country is absolutely unique, for that is a very dangerous thing to say. One can almost always find a precedent for everything. I do not dispute in substance what the hon. Gentleman says. I am prepared to consider all these particular matters when it comes to further stages of the Bill, and I will certainly do so.

Mr. Biffen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the significance of delegated legislation, particularly under Clause 2 of the European Communities legislation, is causing widespread interest in this House, and, therefore, could he find time next week to make a statement indicating that he is himself prepared to suggest that an instruction goes from this House to the Joint Select Committee now sitting on delegated legislation that it should report to this House the evidence it takes after each sitting?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am naturally very well aware of the problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I wish to help the House in this matter in every way I can, and I will certainly do so. I am not sure, however, that I would favour giving an instruction to a Joint Select Committee. If that were to be done it would certainly not be within my power, though no doubt it would be within the power of the House if it wished to do so. I would not like to go so far, nor do I think that to publish the oral evidence after each sitting would necessarily be desirable. I have already said that this Committee will certainly look carefully into this matter as far as delegated legislation of one sort is concerned. I am considering the other sort set out in the European Communities Bill, and I am very anxious to ensure that the House has all the opportunities it correctly should have. I am quite convinced we shall be able to ensure that.

Mr. Grimond

Would the Leader of the House, as spokesman for the whole House, represent to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that it is surely the custom of the House where an hon. or right hon. Gentleman makes a very damaging personal and, as it proves, inaccurate allegation about another right hon. Gentleman and that other right hon. Gentleman repudiates this convincingly that the right hon. Gentleman who has made the allegation should take an early opportunity of withdrawing it?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have no doubt my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will note what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. More

Will my right hon. Friend make a statement next week about the parliamentary machinery which the Government have in mind, if the European Communities Bill becomes law, to deal with such things as the mandatory regulations coming from the European authorities, or does he accept the conclusion of a pro-Market correspondent from Nuffield College, Oxford, in today's issue of The Times that the best we can hope for is for Parliament to be kept in the picture, as in Germany?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am most anxious that the best procedures for the House should be worked out. The House will probably wish to work them out for itself. I hope my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will have something to say about that during the debate. For the future, I am only too anxious, in discussion with all parties, to make sure that we have the best procedure to deal with such questions.

Mr. John Mendelson

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to make an early statement, either tomorrow or very early next week, on whether he is taking steps to obtain the release of Mr. Garfield Todd? Surely the Government must have seen the reports and heard the statement of Mrs. Todd on television about the seriously deteriorating state of Mr. Todd's health. Is it not now a debt of honour of this country and the Government to see that he is not further detained? Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend to do what he can to make an early statement?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is not for me to comment on the substance of these matters. I shall make sure that what the hon. Gentleman has represented is passed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I cannot undertake that there will be a statement next week, but I shall certainly make the appropriate representations.

Mr. Jennings

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vote next Thursday night is widely and wisely regarded as being as much a matter of principle as the vote on 28th October? As we on this side were then allowed a free vote, is my right hon. Friend suggesting to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the same procedure should be followed next Thursday night?

Mr. Whitelaw

These are not matters for me, with regard to either side of the House.

Mr. William Hamilton

Have the Government fixed a definite date for the debate on the possibility of televising the proceedings of the House? If so, on what basis will it take place?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have not fixed a definite date. I am prepared to have discussions through the usual channels as to how best such a Motion might be moved. As it is a matter for the House as a whole, it is probably right that it should be moved by back benchers who have already signified their desire that the proceedings should be televised. That is the basis of my thoughts at present, but I have fixed no date.

Dame Irene Ward

When we are discussing the emergency regulations on Monday, may the House be told in a little more detail whether the priority people in all parts of the country are receiving consideration for heating? We spent a long time this afternoon discussing the position of Birmingham. I am much more interested in what is happening on the North-East Coast, and I think other hon. Members would like to know whether the old, the sick, those in hospitals and the young are being looked after satisfactorily in other parts of the country.

Mr. Whitelaw

I agree that these are immensely important matters in which my hon. Friend takes a very special interest. I shall draw what she says to the attention of my right hon. Friends most closely concerned.

Mr. Donald Stewart

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Motion No. 145 standing in my name, concerning Polaris bases on the Clyde?

[That this House congratulates Glasgow Corporation on their motion deploring the continued presence in the Clyde of nuclear bases and urging immediate steps for their removal; and contrasts that attitude with the criminal indifference of successive Conservative and Labour governments to the safety of a large section of the population of Scotland.]

The appalling threat constituted by the bases, even of an accidental disaster, has hung over people there for many years and has been aggravated by the statement of the American authorities that many of their personnel are taking drugs. Will the right hon. Gentleman provide time for a debate to see that the most densely populated part of Scotland and its people cease to be decoy ducks for what is primarily English and American defence?

Mr. Whitelaw

I, naturally, cannot be asked to comment one way or the other, or to accept some of the premises of the hon. Gentleman's question, and I cannot agree that his Motion is acceptable. I cannot give time for a debate on it next week.

Mr. Fell

As one of the signatories of the Motion concerning Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his answer to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). But does my right hon. Friend realise that the House cannot go on in the way it has in the past two or three weeks, and that at a stage like this it is up to the House to set an example of good manners and proper procedure? Until the House does. I do not intend to be a party to taking that Motion off the Order Paper.

Mr. Whitelaw

Neither I nor any other hon. or right hon. Member would wish to he other than most forward in desiring to ensure that our procedures, both in debate and at Questions, are fully and permanently upheld. I am extremely sensitive to the fact that when there are difficulties the House should set an example to the country as a whole, and I very much hope that we shall do so.

Mr. Maclennan

Last week the right hon. Gentleman undertook to consider my complaint that an Under-Secretary of State for Scotland had rejected the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that the Second Scottish Standing Committee should consider forthwith law reform proposals made by the Law Commission. Has he now investigated the question? Will he bring forward important law reform measures which are wanted by the Scottish legal profession and the general public in Scotland?

Mr. Whitelaw

As I promised, I drew the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to the remarks made last week. He has noted them, and accepts the willingness of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and other hon. Members to have law reform Bills taken in the Second Scottish Standing Committee. There are no such Bills before the House, but I note what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

My right hon. Friend will have noted the report of the Select Committee on Procedure recommending radical changes in the procedure for electing the Speaker. Since no one can know how soon it may be necessary to elect a new Speaker, will my right hon. Friend tell us how soon he intends that that report should be debated and how soon he intends to introduce Motions? It would obviously put the House in an impossible position if through the death or incapacity of Mr. Speaker, or for some other reasons, it became necessary to elect a new Speaker under procedures that have been resoundingly condemned by the Select Committee, but the House was precluded from entertaining Motions to alter its procedure in advance of the fresh election.

Mr. Whitelaw

The report has only just been received by the House. As it is very much a matter for the House as a whole, my first desire is to have discussions through the usual channels to find the basis on which it might be best to proceed. Naturally, I would always wish to bring forward such discussions and proposals resulting from them as quickly as possible. I think I have shown my desire to respond urgently to the Select Committee's reports. But I am sure I speak for all hon. Members when I say that that urgency in no way reflects any views on the present occupant of the Chair.

Mr. Shore

May I revert to next week's business and the three-day debate on the European Communities Bill. Recalling that only 48 hours ago there were published 10 volumes of treaties to which we shall be acceding under, I believe, Clause 1 of that Bill, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether there are any more to which we are supposed to be acceding which have yet to be published and made available to the House before the debate? When does he intend to see to it that all the regulations and directives passed since November, 1971, are translated and made available to the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

I can be perfectly clear in answering that. I believe that this House has all the necessary documents for it to proceed to a Second Reading of the Bill next week.

Mr. Wilkinson

Would my right hon. Friend have discussions with the Home Secretary at the earliest moment about the rights and status of Pakistan nationals resident in this country? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Home Secretary said in a Parliamentary Answer last week that until the 1948 Nationality Act was amended there would be no change in their status? It would give great confidence to my constituents and other Pakistan nationals to know that it is the intention of the Government to safeguard their present position by legislation.

Mr. Whitelaw

I certainly note what my hon. Friend has said and I will call it to the attention of my right hon. Friends most closely concerned.

Mr. English

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Money and Ways and Means Resolutions attached to the European Communities Bill are unique? Is he aware that normally such Resolutions restrict the natural desire of back benches to spend the country's money, yet in this case one grants away the power to appropriate expenditure and the other the power to tax? In such circumstances does he not agree that the limitation of three quarters of an hour's debate imposed by Standing Order is inappropriate? Would he provide an open-ended debate on all of the Resolutions which are so remarkable?

Mr. Whitelaw

Again I would simply reaffirm the remarks I made about anything being unique. Under our present procedures the Ways and Means Resolution is open-ended while the other Resolution is limited.

Mr. Lipton

For the sake of the safety of hon. Members and visitors, will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the fact that the wail of the Terrace is now only 3 ft. above the 'level of the Terrace and it is quite likely that hon. Members or visitors, including children, will fall into the river from the Terrace one of these days? Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that a 3 ft. wall is adequate, and will he take additional steps to ensure the safety of visitors?

Mr. Whitelaw

I noticed the hon. Gentleman's Question on the Order Paper yesterday and I spent some time yesterday morning wondering what was the purpose behind it. Now that he has exposed it to me I have to say that I think the height of the Terrace wall as now planned should give adequate protection to hon. and right hon. Members and their visitors under all normal circumstances.

Sir C. Taylor

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am still worried about the Motion criticising Mr. Speaker? Does he recall that in the old days these Motions were sometimes put down in a temporary anger and then withdrawn, but they had to be debated within a very short time so that they could be got off the Order Paper? May I ask my right hon. Friend to hasten this debate so that we can dispose of this Motion?

Mr. Whitelaw

I did say to the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) that I was bringing this forward the week after next. The House accepts, as the right hon. Gentleman did, that it would be right for this to come on at a reasonable hour. I explained to the right hon. Gentleman and the House why it would be impossible to come on next week. I am bringing it on as early as I can at the sort of hour that I think is reasonable.

Mr. Stallard

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day Motion No. 177 standing in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends?

[That this House, seriously alarmed by the recent rapid deterioration in the situation in Northern Ireland and the ever-increasing death and injury rolls of civilians, soldiers, policemen and security forces, is of the opinion that firm measures must be taken immediately to relieve tension, and create an atmosphere in which permanent solutions could be discussed; and demands that the British Government takes the following immediate steps, namely, to transfer control of security measures to Westminster forthwith, suspend the Northern Ireland Government for 12 months and appoint an all-party Northern Ireland Commission to administer meanwhile, to end internment and release or bring to trial detainees and internees, and initiate all-party talks immediately to discuss permanent solutions.]

This Motion concerns the ever-increasing seriousness of the Northern Ireland situation. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that this matter was discussed recently in the House almost always as a result of some emergency in the Six Counties. Will he consider, in view of the constructive atmosphere that seems to prevail in some quarters at present, making time available next week for a debate on this Motion?

Mr. Whitelaw

I would certainly wish to respond to the hon. Gentleman and say that I hope that a constructive atmosphere will prevail in many places on this difficult and worrying situation. I could not promise time for a debate next week but I will say to the hon. Gentleman that when it seems right and suitable for this House to have an opportunity to debate the subject constructively I and my right hon. Friends most closely concerned will be only too pleased to give the House that opportunity.

Mr. Carter

When in the near future will it be possible to have a debate on the Rothschild and Dainton proposals?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot say at the moment although I very much recognise the importance of the reports and the considerable controversy over them. I also accept that these discussions should at some time be transferred from the correspondence columns of The Times to this House.

Mr. William Price

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the strange situation that arose last Friday at the end of a very short debate on hare coursing when the Government failed to carry their own Adjournment Motion? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the reason for that was that there was an overwhelming number of people in the House who wanted to continue the debate and bring this matter to a conclusion? In view of the feeling on this matter in the House, as evidenced by over 100 hon. Members on all sides signing early-day Motion No. 166, would the right hon. Gentleman consider meeting the wishes of the majority and enabling us to reach a proper conclusion on this subject?

[That this House urges the Government to introduce legislation to ban live hare coursing.]

Mr. Whitelaw

In my experience of the House all sorts of things happen in Private Members' time on Friday afternoons. One factor last Friday was that it was particularly important for the Adjournment debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) to take place. I have always stuck to one simple principle about Private Members' Bills, and I intend to adhere to it. It is that I cannot offer any Government time for them in any way. They must take their proper chance in accordance with the rules for Private Members' business during the time for Private Members' business. I have found that to be a valuable rule to follow since I became Leader of the House, and I fear I do not intend departing from it now.

Mr. George Cunningham

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day Motion No. 174?

[That this House condemns the Minister of State for Defence for his refusal to inform the hon. Member for Islington, South-West, upon the latter's request, in which countries British armed forces personnel are serving on secondment; reminds the Minister that Parliament, which authorises the cost of British forces, cannot be refused information on its application; regards the Minister's refusal as an aberration but one which reflects a dangerous trend for Parliamentary Government; and instructs the Minister to supply forthwith the information requested.]

This concerns the amazing but serious refusal of the Minister of State for Defence to tell me in which countries British seconded military personnel are serving. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider using his own good offices, as he has sometimes done in the past to bring Ministers to their senses when they are not treating back benchers properly? If he fails, although I do not think he will, can he offer me any opportunity to debate a small but important constitutional point?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to accept that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence needs bringing to his senses. I will however consult with him on the basis of the hon. Gentleman's Motion. I am afraid that I could not give time for a debate but I undertake to find out the position from my right hon. Friend.

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