HC Deb 27 January 1972 vol 829 cc1618-34
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week and, so far as he can, the future business of the House?

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, 31ST JANUARY.—Supply (10th allotted day): There will be a debate on an Opposition Motion on unemployment in the engineering, metal and shipbuilding industries.

Motion relating to the Industrial Relations Act 1971 (Commencement No. 3) Order.

TUESDAY, 1ST FEBRUARY.—Second Reading of the Electricity Bill.

Motion on the Redundancy Fund (Advances out of the National Loans Fund) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 2ND FEBRUARY.—Debate on a Motion to approve the Code of Industrial Relations Practice.

Motions relating to the Industrial Relations Act, 1971 (Commencement Nos. 1 and 2) Orders.

THURSDAY, 3RD FEBRUARY.—Second Reading of the Horserace Totalisor and Betting Levy Boards Bill.

Second Reading of the Local Employment Bill [Lords] and the Summer Time Bill [Lords], which are Consolidation Measures.

Motion on the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932 Tynemouth Order.

FRIDAY, 4TH FEBRUARY.—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 7TH FEBRUARY.—Consideration of Private Members' Motions until Seven o'clock.

Afterwards, Second Reading of the Transport (Grants) Bill.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The House will have noticed the fascinating list the right hon. Gentleman has read out for next week. Is he aware that many hon. Members are concerned about what is to happen after that and that the point of order which has just been raised, although technically out of order, is indicative of the effects on the immediate working of this House and its Committees next week.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, as the Bill dealing with the Common Market was published yesterday, whether he will take note of our view that it would be totally wrong to proceed on the timetable which has been given to the Press for a debate of this magnitude, affecting not only the wide issues covered or excluded from the Bill, but also the whole issue of the rights of this House now and possibly for many years to come? Will he therefore say now that there will be adequate time for the House to study, next week and subsequently, not merely the Bill but also the mass of documentation which the House is being asked to turn into legislation, governing the people of this country, their rights and the rights of our courts? Will he take note that time will be required for this and much more time than has been usually granted will be needed for the Second Reading debate?

Finally, in a personal sense, the whole House will agree with me that during the period the right hon. Gentleman has been Leader of the House he has been regarded as a Minister highly sensitive to the rights and needs of the House as a whole and whenever there have been complaints about the slightest derogations they have been small compared with those of most of his predecessors, of all parties. [Laughter.] If the rights of this House, which have not been contested in 600 years, are a laughing matter I still intend to continue. The Prime Minister should not laugh because he is custodian of the rights of the House as much as any of us. Does the Leader of the House agree that legislation affecting legislation carried in this House—repealing or amending that which has gone through the legislative procedure of Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading as well as the procedure in another place—can be repealed or amended only by legislative procedure in this House? If he were to default on this then all trust between him and the House will come to an end.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am always grateful for compliments wherever they come from or however barbed they may be. As for what the right hon. Gentleman said about the European Communities Bill, I would not be prepared to stand here as Leader of the House if I did not believe that the Bill was prepared in a perfectly constitutional manner and is absolutely constitutional in every way. I am certainly prepared to listen to representations about the handling of the Bill and to have discussions through the usual channels about the timing of the Second Reading debate and its length. It may, however, be helpful to the House if I say at this stage that, at the conclusion of the Second Reading debate, the Government will move a Motion to commit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there will be general pleasure at what he has just said with regard to the European Communities Bill being taken in Committee of the whole House? In order to inform the House as to the position of Parliament in the event of entry, would he consider the preparation of a White Paper showing what, in practice, has been the influence of the Parliaments of the Six in Community affairs? Has he, in this context, noted the very interesting article by Mr. Ronald Butt in today's The Times, concluding that their influence is on a much more modest scale than would be acceptable to the vigorous parliamentary tradition?

Mr. Whitelaw

Yes, I note what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about Parliament's decision. It is fair to point out that a joint Committee of both Houses is at the moment sitting on the whole question of subordinate legislation. This can, of course, consider these matters. We also have the prospect put forward by the Select Committee on Procedure that there should be a Committee looking into the legislative process in a more general sense. This will be set up. I am prepared to consider the representations. We should see the reports of these Committees, which will be extremely important and valuable.

Mr. Michael Foot

May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that, since some of us have said for some time that it would be intolerable if any section of the Bill were debated other than on the Floor of the House, we are grateful that that is acknowledged by the Government? But can he tell us of any Bill ever presented to the House of Commons—particularly a Bill with such profound and, as is claimed, irrevocable effects on the status and powers of the House—which has required such formidable documentation as has been presented to the House over recent weeks?

Since every hon. Member has the right to consider these documents and to consult his constituents and the various interests in his constituency about them, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would conform to the precedents of this House if he were to give a period of, say, at least a month for hon. Members to be able to carry out these discussions? Will he give us that guarantee first of all, that the Second Reading will not come earlier than a month from now?

Will he further take into account—although the Prime Minister may dismiss it, as he did just now, the Prime Minister's breach of faith of his own word is for him to consider—that many of us here and outside consider that the Government have not a scrap of a mandate from the country to introduce this Bill, and that therefore the honour of the House is involved in ensuring that we have the fullest possible opportunities for debate? Our first demand is that we should have a full period between the publication of the Bill and the mass of unprecedented documents and the Second Reading debate. Could we have that as our first undertaking from the Leader of the House?

Mr. Whitelaw rose

Mr. Tebbit

On a point of order. Can a demand extending over several minutes be a business question?

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter for me and not for the hon. Member.

Mr. Whitelaw

On the first point, about the documents, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the Government has, as they promised, provided the documents required. On his second point, I am grateful for what he said about the decision to move a Motion to have the Committee stage on the Floor of the House. On his third point, I have said that I am prepared to listen to representations and to have discussions through the usual channels. I am not prepared to give any undertakings one way or another until I have had those discussions.

If I am prepared to have discussions and hear representations, that is a reasonable point of view. I do not think that it is reasonable, on the other hand, to enter into discussion and hear representations on the basis of demands. I am prepared to have perfectly fair and open discussions, but I am not prepared to give in to demands of that sort. As for the position of this House, I am entitled to remind the hon. Gentleman, since he has raised the matter, that the question of the principle of Britain joining the European Communities was passed in this House by a majority of 112.

Sir D. Renton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the surprising thing about this Bill is not only its brevity but the fact that its terms are nothing like so far reaching as might have been expected in the circumstances? Will he ensure that we do not delay the Second Reading for too long, so that we can then get down to the detailed discussion which will undoubtedly be required in Committee?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what my right hon. and learned Friend has said. It is fair to point out that, I have heard all sorts of speculations about the length of the Bill—including the contention of some hon. Members that a Bill of one or two Clauses would be sufficient. This particular Bill deals expressly with all the matters which have to be dealt with before our accession to the Community, or shortly afterwards. That it certainly does, and I stand by that fact. I will certainly note what my right hon. and learned Friend has said.

Mr. Lawson

Before the Government become too set in their thinking about local government reform in Scotland, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that Scottish Members at least have an opportunity to debate the proposals in this Measure?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will certainly look into what the hon. Gentleman has said and discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With regard to the European Communities Bill, while there may be a constitutional case against delegated legislation, which was made more than 50 years ago by Lord Hewart in his book, "The New Despotism", would not my right hon. Friend agree that there is nothing in the Bill which is not supported by ample precedent in other Bills which have come before the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

I believe that to be so. I will certainly stick to what I said to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton).

Mr. Dalyell

When is the Rothschild Report to be debated?

Mr. Whitelaw

Not next week.

Dame Irene Ward

On what day next week may we expect a statement from the Secretary of State for Employment on his massive retraining scheme, which is of great importance to those who are unemployed and want to get on with retraining?

Mr. Whitelaw

I hope that it will be next week but I cannot tell my hon. Friend which day.

Mr. Harold Wilson

In view of the danger of confusion due to an earlier answer by the right hon. Gentleman, compounded by a question from one of his hon. Friends, may I ask whether he is aware that, when he refers to the vote of the House on 28th October, whatever view one may take about the terms of entry, there are two ways of legislating? One would be to follow the normal practice of the House and to have a full legislative procedure on everything that becomes new law, including the rights of our courts and the rights of this House, and the other is what is in the Bill. Secondly, would the right hon. Gentleman, having heard his hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck)—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I should have said the hon. Member for Chelmsforrd (Mr. St. John-Stevas)—

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am very grateful to be mentioned at all by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful to him for asking the question, though he asked it with his usual capacity for creating confusion on clear issues.

Does the Leader of the House not understand that it is not a question of whether delegated legislation has been accepted by this House, but that all delegated legislation in the past has been introduced under clear and specific powers of British legislation.

The issue here is that the Government are proposing by a single Clause—by a stroke of the pen—to provide that the delegation is not to this House but to people, who are not under the control of this House to make British statute law what has been drafted not only in an alien language but in an alien code of law and to make it the law of Britain.

Mr. Whitelaw

The point seems perfectly clear to me—[Interruption.]—and all these matters will, no doubt, be discussed in the months ahead. I believe that this Bill is absolutely correct, that it is absolutely constitutional and that it follows absolutely, naturally and properly as a consequence of the decision in principle to join the E.E.C.

Mr. Crouch

Referring to the general question of the Government providing the necessary documents on time, may I ask my right hon. Friend if he is yet in a position to say how it was that the James Report was not available in such a manner?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have made further inquiries into the position. There is, according to precedent, no requirement that supplies of non-parliamentary publications should be made available to the House, and the Report of the James Committee of course came into this category. Nevertheless, I appreciate the importance of the general point that documents of substantial interest to the House should be made available in sufficient quantities within an appropriate time. I am accordingly making the necessary arrangements with all Government Departments and with the Vote Office.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Reverting to the important question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), may I ask the Leader of the House if he is aware that many of my hon. Friends who are serving on the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill are in a considerable procedural difficulty? I accept that this is not a matter for Mr. Speaker. However, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look carefully at the point my hon. Friend raised so that we can get out of the difficult procedural wrangle in which we are involved?

May we be assured that there will be no question of the Government using the guillotine on the European Communities Bill?

Mr. Whitelaw

The answer to the first part is that I must be careful in view of Mr. Speaker's earlier Ruling. Nor must I transgress Rulings given by the Chairman of a Standing Committee. However, I have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

The answer to the second part is that we must see how we get on. I never expect to take such action, because I imagine that the House always wishes to discuss legislation properly, fully and carefully and not, of course, in any way to seek to delay it unreasonably.

Mr. Adley

In view of the forthcoming document on retraining, the problems of some of the development areas and the importance of the tourist industry to those areas, may I ask my right hon. Friend for an assurance that at some stage we shall have a debate on tourism?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have noted my hon. Friend's suggestion and I know the importance which many hon. Members attach to tourism, but I regret that I cannot find time for the subject to be debated next week.

Mr. Peart

Regarding what my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said about the need for time before the introduction of the European Communities Bill, may I, too, express the hope that the Government will not rush it? The point has already been made about the difficulty being faced by hon. Members in a Standing Committee upstairs. Without going into the details of the matter, may I inform the right hon. Gentleman that some of the legislation which is contained in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will be affected by the European Communities Bill? This is causing considerable confusion in Committee upstairs—it is really confusion on the part of the Government—and, without referring to the specific Clauses that are involved, may I ask the Leader of the House to look into this matter carefully?

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly, but I did not understand that there was any confusion on the part of the Government. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will look into the matter. I repeat that I am very willing, as is my duty, to enter into proper and reasonable discussions through the usual channels and to receive representations from any part of the House about the timing and various other matters relating to the handling of the European Communities Bill.

Mr. Marten

As there are in the Treaty of Accession some important points which should be examined carefully by this House, and as those same points are not mentioned in the European Communities Bill, may I ask my right hon. Friend if he will provide an opportunity next week for us to debate the Treaty of Accession?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am afraid that I cannot offer time for such a debate next week.

Mr. Jay

Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that the European Communities Bill detracts or does not detract from the constitutional principle that no British Parliament can bind its successors?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think I should be careful in pronouncing on matters like that. In any event, I am sure that they can properly be argued when we discuss the Bill in the near future. [Interruption.] I remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that I am dealing with the business for next week.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if, through the usual channel, he acceeds to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that the European Communities Bill should be delayed for a month, there need be no parliamentary hiatus because there is plenty of other business waiting to be dealt with?

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) on the question of the reform of local government in Scotland was most disappointing. Does he appreciate that the Secretary of State for Scotland has written to many of us saying that after his statement on 22nd December he had written to the Leader of the House pointing out that he wanted there to be a debate of this kind and asking him to consult him about it? Will he ensure that we have at least a one-day debate on this subject soon?

Mr. Whitelaw

I can best answer the first part of that question by reminding the hon. Gentleman that I said that I would enter into discussions about the handling and timing of the European Communities Bill. I did not commit myself when replying to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) about having a delay of a month.

The answer to the second part is that while I cannot promise a debate in the immediate future, I realise the importance which Scottish hon. Members attach to the subject, and I will certainly look into the matter.

Mr. Spriggs

Has the Leader of the House seen Early-Day Motion No. 146 about obscene television programmes? Will time be found very soon for a debate of this Motion?

[That this House deplores the lowering moral standards of television presentations in this country; and calls upon the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications to take appropriate action with a view to reversing this trend.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I am afraid that I cannot provide time in the very near future for such a debate, though I appreciate the importance that many hon. Members attach to the subject. In this instance it is important for us in this House to preserve the principle that the governing bodies of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are responsible for the programmes, and no doubt they will have noted the terms of the Motion.

Mr. Urwin

As the nation is heavily involved in what may prove to be the most disastrous industrial dispute since 1926, is it not the duty of the Leader of the House to provide at least one day for the House to debate this vital subject? If he cannot promise to do that, will he at least try to ensure that his colleagues who bear a heavy responsibility in this matter depart from the rigid stance they have taken so far and encourage the National Coal Board to make an improved offer to the miners in order to settle this dispute?

Mr. Whitelaw

There was a full day's debate recently, and I am afraid that I could not promise one for next week. I can, however, undertake that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will keep the House fully informed of any developments that there may be.

Mr. Eadie

Further to that question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin), may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is aware that the lack of any mention of this issue was a significant omission from his statement about the business of the House for next week? He seems to have failed to comprehend that 280,000 people in the mining industry are out on strike. Will he make a statement on behalf of the Government? If not, is his silence indicative of the fact that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to try to starve the miners into submission?

Mr. Whitelaw

No such implication can be taken from my statement announcing the business for next week, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that. I have said, and quite properly, what I must say in these circumstances, which is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will come to the House if he has any developments to report—[Interruption.]—and will make a statement. Whatever I may or may not have announced as the business for next week, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that I appreciate the circumstances of this matter as well as they are appreciated by anyone in this House.

Mr. Shore

Reverting to the European Communities Bill, and having noted what the right hon. Gentleman said about the constitutional aspect, I want to ask him, first, whether he is satisfied that so short a Bill is a proper way in which to treat the matters involved, and, secondly, whether he thinks that we shall, in the Bill, have sufficient opportunity to run over all the very serious matters which have arisen in the negotiations and were not even concluded at the time of the vote on 28th October? Will he reflect upon this? If he does change his mind, I can assure him that the House will be quite ready to see an entirely different and much longer Bill.

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot believe that it would be sensible for the House or any of its Members to judge every Bill simply on its length, taking the view that the longer the Bill the better it must be. That would be a dangerous way in which to judge any Bills or any documents in our national life. I believe that the Bill expressly but concisely deals with all the matters which have to be dealt with before our accession to the E.E.C. or shortly afterwards. I believe that this is an appropriate way of doing it and I have no doubt that when we come to the Bill there will be ample opportunities to discuss the issues involved.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot let business questions go on indefinitely. I will allow a few more.

Mr. McBride

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a cardinal difference between the two Housing Finance Bills now in Committee? The Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill is in charge of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has executive responsibility for housing in Scotland, whereas Welsh interests are being frustrated in the Housing Finance Bill for England and Wales in that the Government team is being led by the Minister for Housing and Construction. We feel that the Principality's interest would be better served by there being a separate Bill for Wales in charge of the Secretary of State for Wales, who has complete executive responsibility for housing in Wales.

Mr. Whitelaw

The problem of these Bills and the way they are being dealt with is well known to the House. English and Welsh Measures are usually dealt with together, but Scotland, because of its different legal system, has different Bills. That Is the procedure which is being followed in this case, as it was under previous Administrations. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction is representing Welsh interests very well indeed on the Housing Finance Bill.

Mr. Booth

The right lion. Gentleman has referred to the Joint Committee of the two Houses which is to consider the question of the control of Parliament over delegated legislation. Does he acknowledge that the principal reason for setting up the Committee was the concern of a number of Members of both Houses that we have not adequate control over existing delegated legislation? Since the European Communities Bill contains a Clause which will gravely reduce control of the House over delegated legislation, I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that that provision should not be considered by the House until the Joint Committee has reported and the House has taken a decision upon its recommendation.

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's particular interest in this subject. The Joint Committee was set up in response to a unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure. As he says, it was set up because of problems of dealing with subordinate legislation under existing Statutes. I repeat what I said earlier—that clearly our accession to the European Communities will add to this problem and that these additional matters should rightly also be examined by the Joint Committee. But I do not think that it would be necessary to hold back discussion of the Bill until that Committee has reported. I hope that the Joint Committee will have regard to these problems. It may make some recommendations dealing with problems which already existed and separate recommendations for dealing with the new problems. But that will be for the Joint Committee itself to decide.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

As the Conservative manifesto at the last General Election indicated support for legislation to end discrimination against women, will the right hon. Gentleman now consider allowing Government time for debating the later stages of the Bill to this end which will be introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) tomorrow?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the importance of the subject and the point made by the hon. Lady, but I must stick to the principle which I have always held since I took my present office. I am afraid that I cannot give Government time for any Private Members' Bills of any sort or kind, no matter how meritorious they may be.

Mr. Richard

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Written Question No. 97 today asked the Minister for Posts and Telecommunications to make a statement on postal charges and services? Is he further aware that on the tapes there is an indication that the Minister intends to make a statement to the House this afternoon? Is the Minister going to make such a statement? If he is not, how can the Leader of the House possibly justify parliamentary trickery of this sort when, on a most important issue, one of his colleagues is not prepared to come here to make an oral statement as he should do?

Mr. Whitelaw

No parliamentary trickery is involved. A Written Answer has been given, and that is a perfectly proper procedure. I have always said that one has to decide in these matters which are Questions which should have oral statements in reply and which should not.

Mr. Richard


Mr. Whitelaw

Before the hon. and learned Gentleman says that, he should look at the precedents rather carefully.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry, but we must now move on. The Clerk will now—

Mr. John Mendelson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is the first occasion when hon. Members on both sides can express to the Leader of the House their shock and amazement at the constitutional abrogation which the Government are already beginning to practice by the nature of the Bill they have introduced concerning the European Communities. Should you not on this occasion allow every hon. Member who rises in his place to put a question?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Mendelson

May I be allowed to put my point of order?

Mr. Speaker

Order. There can be no point of order about my decision to stop questioning at business time. I have today allowed twice the usual time. Many right hon. and hon. Members have put questions and there have been five or six interjections from the Opposition Front Bench. This is not a matter for order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to query my conduct he must do it in a different way.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to help me. I am given complete discretion by the House in this matter and I allowed business questions to go on today for 36 minutes. When I decide to end it, it is intolerable to me to have my decision questioned, and that is what the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) is doing.

Mr. Ashton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Is this a different point of order?

Mr. Ashton

Yes. It is with regard to the precedents of the House, Mr. Speaker. Week after week, because our Front Bench members are so enthusiastic to do their duty, many of us cannot get called in the time you make available. Your predecessor used to allow every back bencher who wanted to ask a business question to do so. I say with great respect that one of the things disturbing us since you succeeded him is that you do not follow that practice.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is being wholly accurate. I do my best, and 36 minutes is a long time for Question. If the House should wish me to allow all business questions to be called, it must do so by a new Standing Order.

Mr. Molloy

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have had a vast amount of correspondence on the subject of the Common Market. There are ordinary folk in Great Britain who, rightly or wrongly, think that their nation's birthright is to be sold. Whilst we have the highest regard for your position and for your Rulings, may I ask you to consider that what we have been discussing this afternoon about the European Communities Bill is one of the greatest issues which has ever come before the House of Commons in that it might change the nature of this House and do away with rights we now enjoy?

Mr. Speaker

I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. But I remind him that the Leader of the House was asked to delay the Second Reading debate for some time. Many questions today were put which were really very much more appropriate for the Second Reading debate. I have to make a judgment in these matters. I am sorry that a number of hon. Members have not been able to put their business questions, but we must have regard to other business of the House.