HC Deb 17 February 1972 vol 831 cc616-23
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)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 21ST FEBRUARY.—Supply (12th Allotted Day): There will be a debate on Disablement, which will arise on an Opposition Motion.

Motions on the Rate Support Grant (Increase) (Scotland) Orders.

TUESDAY, 22ND FEBRUARY.—Remaining stages of the Employment Medical Advisory Service Bill, which it is hoped to obtain in about two hours.

Afterwards, Ways and Means and Money Resolutions relating to the European Communities Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 23RD FEBRUARY.—Debate on a Motion to approve the Statement on Defence (Command No. 4891).

Motions on the Scottish Hospital Trust Scheme and Regulations.

THURSDAY, 24TH FEBRUARY.—COnclusion of the debate on the Statement on Defence.

Remaining stages of the Harbours (Loans) Bill.

FRIDAY, 25TH FEBRUARY.—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 28TH FEBRUARY.—Supply (13th Allotted Day), when the Defence Vote on Account will be before the House.

It may be convenient for the House to know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget on Tuesday, 21st March.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Regarding the Supply Day on Monday, is the right hon. Gentleman aware—I think he probably is, but the House should be aware—that it might be necessary to change the subject if the industrial situation were to worsen appreciably over the weekend? Secondly, regarding the Supply Day which the right hon. Gentleman has announced for Monday week, 28th February, would the House be right to conclude that, as a result of the procedure adopted in recent years, this is not one of those defence Supply Days when the House will necessarily expect to be debating defence all day, but one which will enable the Government to get their necessary defence business through quickly so that it will then become an ordinary Supply Day?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I wish to respond positively to what he said yesterday; namely, that the Government should give the fullest information and opportunity for discussion to the House in an industrial situation such as, regrettably, we have at the present time. If, unfortunately, over the weekend it appears likely that the present situation will be prolonged, I will arrange for a debate on Monday in Government time. It may be difficult to make a business statement to that effect in time, but everything will be done to see that the House is fully informed—of course, after discussions through the usual channels.

On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, yes, he is correct that it is open to the Opposition in the normal way to choose what business they may wish to discuss on that day.

Dame Irene Ward

My right hon. Friend will recollect that the Prime Minister gave me a promise a fortnight ago—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—that I should not have to wait long—[Interruption.]—for a certain decision relating to the development areas. [Interruption.] I should have thought that if the Opposition were interested in the development areas they would listen to my question. Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether I am likely to get the answer in next week's business, because we all want to know it?

Mr. Whitelaw

Naturally, any promises between my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend are clearly matters for my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend. Regarding my hon. Friend's question about the development areas—the House appreciates the extreme importance of these areas—I could not promise such a statement next week. However, I note that the subject is of considerable importance.

Mr. C. Pannell

The Leader of the House will recall that last week he gave me a promise that there would be a debate on a Motion on the Order Paper 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.] It has been traditionally held that it is offensive to Mr. Speaker to leave such a Motion lying on the Order Paper. This puts me in difficulty, because I do not want to be discourteous to Mr. Speaker, and I hope the Leader of the House does not want to be discourteous to him. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman indicate that we shall have this debate this side of the Budget?

Mr. Whitelaw

I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for, clearly, having broken the promise which I made to him last week. I think that perhaps both he and the House appreciate the reasons why I have broken that promise. It would not, in present circumstances, be appropriate to have that debate next week. I certainly give the undertaking that if the situation is still as it is I will provide time. I confirm that it will be before the Budget.

Mr. Onslow

Will my right hon. Friend, if necessary, give consideration to finding time next week for the House to pass through all its stages a straightforward little Bill to clarify and strengthen the law on picketing?

Mr. Whitelaw

No, I could not give any such promise, but I note what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we shall get a final statement about the all-party mission to Rhodesia? Does he accept that this matter has dragged on long enough now?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs stated the present position on Monday. Since then my right hon. Friend has sent another message to Mr. Smith.

I should like to make my position as Leader of this House perfectly clear. Delegations from this House are chosen in the normal way and must be accepted on that basis.

Mr. Wilkinson

In repeating my request of a fortnight ago for an early debate on foreign affairs, may I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day Motion No. 175 in the names of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Tom McMillan), my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn), myself and 51 others?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make renewed representations to the Government of Bangladesh that maximum protection be given to the Biharis and other Urdu-speaking people.]

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly. I appreciate the importance of the Motion about the position in Bangladesh and my hon. Friend's desire for a debate on foreign affairs. I could not give my hon. Friend an undertaking for a debate next week. However, I certainly appreciate the importance of the matter which he is bringing before the House.

Sir G. de Freitas

May I ask the Leader of the House what he intends to do about Motion No. 182 concerning the Prime Minister's allegations against the Leader of the Liberal Party?

[That this House deplores the unfounded allegations made by the Prime Minister against the Leader of the Liberal Party on 10th February that as far as Rhodesia is concerned he will not be contented until he can bomb both black and white alike; and further deplores the Prime Minister's failure subsequently to withdraw such allegation on its repudiation by the Leader of the Liberal Party.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that this is a personal matter which has been dealt with on a personal basis between the two right hon. Gentlemen concerned.

Mr. Fitt

Will the Leader of the House consult his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary with a view to making a statement early next week on why it has been found necessary to depart from the original terms of reference of the Widgery Tribunal which is inquiring into certain events in Londonderry in the knowledge thata his right hon. Friend, during the course of the debate, said that the inquiry would be into all the circumstances in which the illegal march took place and what happened thereafter? The right hon. Gentleman indicated to the House that no restrictions would be placed on the inquiry. In view of Lord Widgery's remark that the inquiry is to be restricted to a period in time of 90 minutes and a geographical location in Londonderry, which would seem to offset the credibility of the whole inquiry, will the right hon. Gentleman consult his right hon. Friend with a view to telling us why the Government have changed their minds on the terms of reference, or, if the Government have not changed their minds, whether Lord Widgery was in a position to change the terms of reference of the Resolution as it was given to this House?

Mr. Whitelaw

As I understand it, the Government have certainly not changed their minds. However, I will look into the matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I confirm that there has not been a change of mind in this matter.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Is the Leader of the House aware that the time is long overdue for a debate on the Welsh economy in view of the grave unemployment situation in Wales in constituencies, such as my own, where unemployment is presently about 12 per cent. of the insured population? Will he arrange such a debate as soon as possible, and certainly before Easter?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the importance of the subject which the right hon. Gentleman brings forward. I could not find time in the House for a debate on this matter next week. These matters can frequently be arranged in the Welsh Grand Committee. [Interruption.] Although I thought it right to make that point, I knew it would not be acceptable. Nevertheless, I note for the future what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Eadie

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise, in relation to what he has said about the debate on Monday, that the time, perhaps, is due for cool heads? Would he agree that, as the National Executive of the N.U.M. has decided to hold a special meeting tomorrow morning perhaps to discuss the Wilberforce proposals, nothing should be allowed to prevent it discussing these proposals objectively? Would he agree to consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate about the Longannet picket men who were arrested and detained in custody. In view of the kind of charges levelled against them, would he agree that we must have cool heads and that nothing must be done which would militate against a solution to a problem with which the whole nation is concerned?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, accept from me that I entirely agree with the proposition that he has put forward about cool heads in this very difficult situation. I am sure that he would expect, and know, that I would feel that. I also know of the contribution which he is making in exactly that way, and the House will appreciate that, too. As for the matters which the hon. Gentleman raises, I will certainly consult my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Lord Advocate, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate the long-standing position in this country that matters of law are, very properly, not things with which governments can interfere. Nevertheless, within that context I will make the representations which the hon. Gentleman requests.

Mr. Orme

To return to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) about the Widgery Tribunal, is the Leader of the House aware that there is very great concern in both protestant and catholic legal circles, and would he ask his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to say, when he makes a statement, whether the Sunday Times article which was going to be printed, and which Lord Widgery requested should not be printed, and which was submitted to him, had any relation to Lord Widgery altering the terms of reference? Would he also ask the Home Secretary to indicate to Lord Widgery the terms that he stated to the House?

Mr. McMaster

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Fitt

It is in the middle of a Question.

Mr. McMaster

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The matter which is being raised now by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) seems to infringe the sub judice rule. This matter will be covered by Lord Widgery in the findings of his tribunal. Surely it is not appropriate for the hon. Member for Salford, West to go into these matters at this stage.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) is wrong.

Mr. Orme

Mr. Speaker, I am raising this matter purely on the judicial aspect and not raising the context of the situation. Therefore, I ask the Leader of the House to communicate my point to the Home Secretary because of the extreme concern, and to try to get the matter cleared up as soon as possible, because many of my hon. Friends want to see the Widgery Tribunal operate properly and see witnesses from all sides take part. This is in the interests of justice generally, and we should like to see it go ahead.

Mr. Whitelaw

Everyone would confirm the last of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I confirm again what I said previously, that the terms of reference as put to this House have not been changed. I will certainly communicate what the hon. Gentleman has said to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has heard these matters. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish me to confirm or deny some of his statements, of which, naturally, I have no knowledge.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am very much in the hands of the House. There is to be an important statement and then a very important debate. I hope that all hon. Members will help me to proceed.

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