HC Deb 24 February 1972 vol 831 cc1496-505
Mr. Harold Wilson

Will the Leader of the House kindly 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, 28TH FEBRUARY.—Supply (13th Allotted Day): there will be a debate on an Opposition Motion on unemployment.

The Defence Vote on Account, 1972–73 and the Votes A will also be before the House.

Motion on the Redundant Mineworkers (Payments Scheme) Order.

Lords Amendments to the Superannuation Bill.

At Seven o'clock the Chairman of Ways and Means has named Opposed Private Business for consideration.

TUESDAY, 29TH FEBRUARY and WEDNESDAY, 1ST MARCH.—Progress on the Committee stage of the European Communities Bill.

THURSDAY, 2ND MARCH.—Supply (14th Allotted Day): Air Estimates, 1972–73, Vote A.

Remaining stages of the Maintenance Orders (Reciprocal Enforcement) Bill (Lords).

FRIDAY, 3RD MARCH.—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 6TH MARCH.—Supply (15th Allotted Day): Debate on a topic to be announced.

Mr. Wilson

In view of the continuing appalling unemployment figures which the Government have announced today, will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the fact that yet again it is the Opposition who are supplying time to debate unemployment? Unfortunately, through no fault of ours or the right hon. Gentleman's, it can be only a half-day debate. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider providing adequate time in Government time for a debate on this continuingly regrettable situation?

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman has not announced any subjects or dates, but will he recall his willingness yesterday to consider the possibility of a debate on Northern Ireland, in order that we may deal with some of the many wide issues which, by the very nature of the position yesterday, we were not able to discuss and which might have been relevant to the Bill passed by this House? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear those matters in mind and consider providing a very early date for a debate on Northern Ireland?

Thirdly, while I do not ask for an answer today, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider one important matter which was raised yesterday when the House passed through all its stages the Northern Ireland Bill. That was not unprecedented, but it was a very rare occasion, because of the circumstances. However, it meant that the House could not give full consideration either to the broad issues or to the points of law which arose. I understand that some very serious issues were raised about points of law by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones). Will the right hon. Gentleman consider referring to the Select Committee on Procedure or some other appropriate Committee the proposal that whenever a Government, for whatever reason, have to introduce a Bill for passage in an unusually short time, a time limit shall be built into the legislation at the end of which it lapses unless it is renewed by fresh legislation of this House? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider that proposal? I am sure he will agree that in the light of what occurred yesterday it is not an unfair question.

Mr. Whitelaw

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I note what he has said, and I shall bear in mind all his various points about Northern Ireland and the events of yesterday. Perhaps I might say that I think it right to make clear how much I appreciate the way in which the House dealt with the extremely difficult position in which it was placed. It is a situation in which this House should not normally find itself, and certainly it was not the desire of the Government or anyone else that it should have been in that position.

Mr. Russell Kerr

The right hon. Gentleman should respond to it.

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that I am being reasonable to the House in a difficult situation. It is in that spirit that I want to thank the Leader of the Opposition for what he has said.

I will respond to the right hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on Northern Ireland. I undertook to do so yesterday, and I repeat it today. I suggest that its timing might be discussed through the usual channels.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's third point, I accept what he says. Naturally, this would be a matter within the terms of reference of the Select Committee on Procedure. I am sure that the Chairman will note our exchange; it is really a matter for him. But, naturally, it is a matter that he may wish to discuss with me or with the Leader of the Opposition. Certainly I shall be pleased to do so.

Mr. Biffen

In respect of next week's business and the fact that the Committee stage of the European Communities Bill is being taken on a Tuesday, will my right hon. Friend indicate the Government's view on the desirability of this piece of legislation being considered while there are Committees proceeding upstairs dealing with other legislation?

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly I have borne in mind what has been said on this matter. The House will notice that one of the two days is a Wednesday, when, I understand, these Committees will not be sitting, I realise that some Committees will be sitting on Tuesday. That has happened before. I shall seek to avoid it whenever possible.

Sir Elwyn Jones


Mr. Michael Foot


Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot allow questions on business to be monopolised by the Opposition Front Bench. Mr. Pannell.

Mr. C. Pannell

Is the Leader of the House aware that he has entered into a commitment on the last two Thursdays, as I have understood it, with regard to a Motion which reflects on the Chair and which, out of respect to Mr. Speaker, should not remain on the Order Paper a day longer than necessary—

Mr. James Hill

Take it off, then.

Mr. Pannell

Judging by the amount of support that I have been offered privately from hon. Members opposite, that is not the general view of that side of the House. It is an important Motion which has been signed by hon. Members in all parts of the House. The right hon. Gentleman will understand the obligation, and perhaps he will sympathise with my impatience in the matter. Will he make a further statement, adding the continued commitment that this Motion will be debated?

[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.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. Last week I said would provide time unless the matter could be resolved otherwise, before the Budget. I stand by that commitment. However, I hope still that the matter may be resolved otherwise.

Mr. Cormack

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 193 in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), myself and some 35 right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House, and express the hope that it will be debated at a fairly early date, since there is a great deal of feeling in the House about the matter?

[That this House deplores the un-parliamentary behaviour of a small minority of hon. Members, who on Thursday, 17th February engaged in physical threats to and intimidation of Members of the Parliamentary Liberal Party; and, mindful of Mr. Speaker's solemn warning on the 1st February, calls upon Mr. Speaker to investigate the incident and to order those responsible to apologise to the House.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the seriousness of the matter raised by my hon. Friend and the strength of feeling expressed by him and by many other hon. Members in all parts of the House. I regret that I cannot give time for a debate next week. I believe that the responsibility for the reputation of this House is one which all of us share and one which I hope we shall all remember. If we transgress it, I think that apologies such as the one that we heard earlier this week from the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) are always accepted by the House. But this is a responsibility that we all share.

Mr. Dalyell

When are we to have an opportunity, before decisions are made, to debate the Rothschild Report on the Research Council?

Mr. Whitelaw

I realise how important the subject is, but I cannot say when time for a debate will be found.

Mr. Lane

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he hopes to provide time before Easter for a debate on the subject of televising our proceedings, because recent incidents in the House have plainly strengthened the case in favour of this?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am certainly hoping to live up to the promise I made, that we should have time for a debate on that subject based on a Private Member's Motion. I hope it will be before Easter; it will be my endeavour to make it so.

Mr. David Steel

Is the Leader of the House aware that the House is still awaiting with great patience a statement about the proposed all-party mission to Rhodesia? Is he further aware that it is now 10 days since the Minister of State at the Foreign Office told us that he had sent a further telegram to Mr. Smith? What has happened to it?

Mr. Whitelaw

The best answer I can give is that I will keep in touch with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the usual channels on this matter. On the basic principle, I have nothing to add to what I said last week; namely, that delegations from this House chosen in the normal way must be accepted on that basis.

Mr. Evelyn King

May I refer my right hon. Friend to the real difficulty which arises when Committees are sitting upstairs and a Bill as important as the European Communities Bill is being dealt with on the Floor of the House? It has been suggested that there might be some mechanical device, such as a tell-tale, which would ease the position and enable hon. Members in the House to know when there was a Division in Committee. Can urgent consideration be given to this, if it has not already been considered?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will certainly look into that. I am hoping to avoid such clashes to the best of my ability.

Mr. William Hannan

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has been consulted by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who promised to speak to him about the need for time to debate in the House the proposals in the White Paper dealing with local government re-organisation in Scotland? As the time factor is becoming more important, may I ask him to find time soon for a debate on the subject?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have always recognised the importance which Scottish Members attach to the subject. I have in the past suggested, not with any degree of acceptance from them that this is something that might be discussed in the Scottish Grand Committee. I note the wish for a debate on the Floor of the House, and I will certainly bear it in mind.

Sir Bernard Braine

Is my right hon. Friend aware that having regard to the many troubles facing the country—matters of great concern to both sides of the House—it would be wrong for him to get the impression from what the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) says that there is any body of opinion in the House which feels that time should be allocated for discussion of a matter which most of us, quite frankly, think is utterly trivial and is bringing this House into contempt?

Mr. Whitelaw

The right hon. Member and I agreed last week that the circumstances at the time were not propitious for such a debate; neither are they this week, and that is why it has not been arranged. I note my hon. Friend's point of view. I have said that I would like this matter to be resolved, if possible, without a debate. No one would be more pleased than I if that could be done. On the other hand, I entered into a specific commitment and promise, and I will not go back on specific commitments and promises that I make to the House. Nevertheless, I still hope that the matter can be resolved without a debate.

Mr. Skinner

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the possibility of a further debate on the mining industry to take into account the findings of the Wilberforce Inquiry and, more important, to allow hon. Members to debate the fact that during the strike four power stations were in the process of being changed from coal to oil, so that we may establish whether that was a permanent or temporary move?

Mr. Whitelaw

It would not be for me to follow the hon. Gentleman into the policy matter which he has raised. It will be appreciated that I have given an undertaking to the Leader of the Opposition that there will be a debate on the industrial situation at a suitable time, and I stand by that answer.

Mr. Raison

Will my right hon. Friend endeavour to find time in the reasonably near future for a debate on the Government's proposals to introduce a hospital ombudsman?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am afraid that I could not promise time soon, but I note the importance of the subject and the acceptance which it has received in all parts of the House.

Sir Elwyn Jones

Would the right hon. Gentleman say when the Report of Lord Parker's Committee on interrogation practices in Northern Ireland will be published? Is it not essential that it should be published at least before we debate Northern Ireland on the occasion the Leader of the House has indicated?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note the importance of the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes. I accept what he says. The report will be published shortly.

Mr. Walters

As it is now a considerable time since we have had a foreign affairs debate, would my right hon. Friend look into the chances of having such a debate so that we can discuss some of the important issues affecting this country throughout the world?

Mr. Whitelaw

I answered a similar question last week. Of course I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend makes, but I cannot say when such time will be available and when it might be most suitable for the House.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider providing time to debate Motion No. 27 signed by a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That this House, recognising the importance of maintaining the living theatre in all its forms, subsidised and unsubsidised, in a flourishing condition, and recalling that for these reasons Parliament has already approved the complete abolition of the entertainment tax, urges Her Majesty's Government to ensure that in any legislation providing for the introduction of value-added tax, the living theatre will be accorded zero rating.]

Is he aware that the Motion calls upon the Government, in the event of their introducing a value-added tax, to accord zero rating to the living theatre?

Mr. Whitelaw

All these matters can be discussed following the announcement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised on this subject at the time of his Budget Statement.

Mr. C. Pannell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I confirm through you, with the Leader of the House, that I have put before him proposals by which a debate on the Motion that I mentioned can be avoided but that the initiative has not been taken up?

Mr. Whitelaw

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct. He has put forward proposals, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine). As so often in life, the two sets of proposals have not yet actually met. My desire is to play the part of conciliator and see whether these two sets of proposals can have a meeting.

Mrs. Castle

Following the question raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) about the Health Service Commissioner, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether, in view of the importance and the obscurity of the statement made by the Secretary of State for Social Services and in view of the urgent need to proceed with this matter, we could have time for a debate to clarify and examine the proposals?

Mr. Whitelaw

I did not appreciate that the statement by my right hon. Friend was obscure. I will certainly discuss the matter with him. I could not promise a debate, but I know that my right hon. Friend will be anxious to ensure that the matter is properly cleared up if it is obscure in the mind of the right hon. Lady or any other hon. Member.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Has the attention of the right hon. Gentleman been drawn to the official announcement that the Government have agreed to the instructions offered to them by the Daily Express that they should appoint a "Supremo" to deal with trade and industry? Can he make a statement next week to explain why the Government have carried out this Daily Express instruction and appointed the Lord Privy Seal? Is it because there is no one suitable in this House? May we take it that in future when such announcements are to be made the right hon. Gentleman will arrange for them to be made in the House so that we can question him about it, because we cannot question the Lord Privy Seal? Is he aware that we want to be able to raise questions with the various responsible Ministers in this House? Will he follow the good example set by Governments of all parties in the past and ensure that such announcements are made in this House and not in the Press?

Mr. Whitelaw

If questions are put down—

Mr. Lewis

There is a Question on the Order Paper.

Mr. Whitelaw

—the responsible Ministers in this House will answer them in the normal way.