HC Deb 06 July 1972 vol 840 cc749-62
Mr. Harold Wilson

Will the right hon. Gentleman 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. Robert Carr)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 10TH JULY, TUESDAY, 11TH JULY, AND WEDNESDAY, 12TH JULY—Report stage of the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY, 13TH JULY—Third Reading of the European Communities Bill.

Motions in relation to Criminal Procedure and Judges.

FRIDAY, 14TH JULY—Motions on Northern Ireland Orders on education and libraries, appropriation (No. 2), county courts and superannuation.

MONDAY, 17TH JULY—Further progress on the Report stage of the Local Government Bill.

Mr. Wilson

Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that it is intolerable that the Third Reading of the European Communities Bill—a major constitutional Measure which removes from this House powers which it hasexercised for centuries, a Bill which has been guillotined and so manoeuvred by the Government that they have not considered a single Amendment to enable a Report stage to take place—should occupy only a single day? Does he not realise that this is quite unacceptable to anybody concerned with the liberties of this House?

Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome the fact that the whole of Friday is to be devoted to these important Irish orders? Will he confirm that the rules which apply at other times in respect of 1½ hours only for such orders will not apply on that day and that the House will be able to go on to debate those orders, and any other order, not merely until four o'clock but until 5.30 p.m. under the rules of the House? Will he confirm that the order relating to education, which is a matter of great interest and perhaps great controversy, has been accepted by all the religious authorities in Northern Ireland and that the House may wish to debate it for much more than 1½ hours?

Mr. Carr

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Third Reading of the European Communities Bill. I also take note of the fact that the Bill has now received 27 days of debate on the Floor of the House, which is a considerable amount of time. I do not think it could possibly be regarded as having been inadequately debated.

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the orders on Northern Ireland. It was my hope that this arrangement, although perhaps not ideal, would provide a long time for debate in the normal hours of the day on these subjects. I confirm that we intend to table the orders in such a way as to allow maximum time for debate for the particularly important order on education to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. He is also right to say that the House could go on until 5.30 p.m. on that day, and, in certain circumstances, the House could go on later. Finally, I am glad to be able to confirm that the education provisions have been accepted by the various religious authorities.

Mr. Wilson

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how many major constitutional Bills this century—and especially legislation of such fundamental importance for this House as the European Communities Bill—have gone through without receiving a Report stage? [An Hon. Member: "All the Amendments were voted down."] The House voted down all the Amendments and the Government Front Bench never even considered them. [Interruption.] I do not take my orders from the noble Lord the right hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel). Some of us, unlike the noble Lord and the whole of the Government Front Bench, have to represent the interests of this House. Is the Leader of the House aware that we have been denied a Report stage on the Bill because the Government refused to consider a single Amendment on its merits owing to the fact that they had to have time for the legislative timetable? Perhaps he will say how many major constitutional Bills have not had a Report stage.

Secondly, the House welcomes the facilities provided for discussing Northern Ireland affairs in this House. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider whether it might be convenient for the House not to have a statement on Northern Ireland next Thursday but to leave all Northern Ireland matters until the Friday—though not excluding, if it is thought to be appropriate, a statement at 11 o'clock? Is he aware that, although both sides of the House welcome what has been done, there is still some dissatisfaction with the time provided and the methods adopted for debating Northern Ireland matters? Is he prepared to enter into talks through the usual channels on such a basis that they may represent the views of back benchers from all parts of the House to see whether different arrangements might be made next Session for debating Northern Ireland matters as long as the responsibility for Northern Ireland rests with this House?

Mr. Carr

On the first point, I am afraid that I cannot without research answer categorically the right hon. Gentleman's question. Perhaps I should have done some. It may well be that the answer is "No". Even if the answer is "No", the reason in this case is that the majority of this House did not pass any Amendments. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] When the House passes Amendments in Committee on a Bill, there is a Report stage—and there would have been in this case. When the majority of the House does not pass any Amendments, then there is not a Report stage.

But I still say that this Bill has had a great deal of debate. We must also realise that since the beginning of January last year, in addition to the 27 days on the Bill itself, there have been a further 15 days' debate on the subject of Europe. In other words, there have been 42 days of debate. I do not think any issue of any kind in this century has been debated at such length and in such depth.

On the question of Northern Ireland, I hope that the proposals I am making will help. I fully realise that they are not as perfect as we would like if the world in which we were living were more perfect. As for the future, the Government accept that it will be necessary to have in the next Session a Northern Ireland Committee which will provide hon. Members with the opportunity to propose, to vote upon and record their views upon Amendments so that those views can be taken into account. I will certainly have discussions through the usual channels on how that should be done.

Captain Orr

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are grateful to him for the discussions he has had with us about Northern Ireland legislation? However, is he also aware that we still think that the long term proposals are not satisfactory. Is he aware that, in view of the present state of disturbances in Northern Ireland, Fridays are peculiarly bad for representatives from Northern Ireland constituencies and that this Friday is almost impossible for any of us? Will he please reconsider that matter?

Mr. Carr

I understand there are difficulties about Fridays. On the other hand, there are also advantages about Fridays in giving hon. Members a more extended opportunity for debate during reasonable hours of the day when the mass media of communication can also pay more attention to such debates. As with everything else in this life, it is a matter of balancing advantages against disadvantages. As for the particular Friday concerned, 14th July, I will look at the situation again. Though I am prepared to look at it, I think the difficulties are so great that I would be wrong to hold out much hope. I do not think a change can be made.

Mr. Frank Allaun

May I ask whether the House can have a statement next week from the Minister for Housing and Construction about whether he has yet replied to a letter from Birmingham which asked whether the corporation's proposals for new rents and new criteria for fixing them could be accepted? I raise this matter because it is now 10 weeks since the letter was sent to the right hon. Gentleman and meanwhile local authorities throughout the country are wondering whether this was just a trick to string them along and to frustrate the growing opposition to the Housing Finance Bill.

Mr. Carr

Whatever it is, I am sure that it is not the latter. I doubt whether this would be a subject for an oral statement after Questions, but certainly I shall convey what the hon. Gentleman has said to my right hon. Friend, stressing the hon. Gentleman's desire that my right hon. Friend should give a reply.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are grateful to him for arranging for my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to make a statement this week about the establishment of an office in London for the Palestine Liberation Organisation? Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend accept that the statement was really a plea of diminished responsibility on the part of the Department? What we expect to hear is a statement from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about what the Government intend to do about it. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement?

Mr. Carr

I am aware of the concern about this matter. However, there is nothing that I can properly add at the moment. I shall pass on what my right hon. Friend has said to both my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Carter-Jones

I realise that the right hon. Gentleman is short of time but will he, nevertheless, give serious consideration to the possibility of allowing the House to debate the Tunbridge Report on rehabilitation? Is he aware that a similar report was produced 18 years ago but that no action was taken? As it concerns the lives of millions of people directly and indirectly, both young and old, and people who suffer from industrial injuries, will he undertake that the matter will be considered in this Parliament?

Mr. Carr

I know the hon. Gentleman's very long and close interest in this subject, and I know that it concerns the whole House. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will be making a statement before the recess about disabled employ- ment, which is a different but closely related matter. I shall see to it that the hon. Gentleman's point is considered, but I cannot make any promise about a debate.

Mr. Sydney Chapman

While it is intended to take Government business on Fridays, will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of giving hon. Members notice of that business a fortnight rather than a week ahead, since that will be extremely helpful to many hon. Members who have important constituency engagements on Fridays?

Can my right hon. Friend say what has happened to the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill and whether its Report stage will be taken on a Friday, as it was intended to be last Friday?

Mr. Carr

In reply to my hon. Friend's last question, I hope that it will be fairly soon, but not next week. My hon. Friend's first point raises a matter which has come up frequently over the years. It is natural for hon. Members to want as long as possible notice of the business of the House. All my predecessors, however much they have tried to do this, have found it extremely difficult. The position in which we live is very fluid. Monday week is about as far as anyone has so far felt able to look ahead.

Mr. David Stoddart

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Early Day Motion No. 398 deploring the attitude of the Foreign Secretary to the French nuclear tests in contradiction to Britain's attitude towards non-proliferation? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the spectacle of the Foreign Secretary acting as an apologist for the French Government in this matter is deeply offensive to many people in this country, who regard it as diplomatic "creeping" of the worst sort? When the Foreign Secretary returns from his wanderings, will the Leader of the House take him by the arm and guide him to the Dispatch Box so that he may explain to the House and to the country his attitude in this matter, and why he did not support the Commonwealth countries?

That this House deplores the support given by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to the French nuclear tests in contradiction of Great Britain's long-standing opposition to the proliferation of nuclear armaments; and further calls upon him to place before the House proof that the tests were clean and to inform the House why Her Majesty's Government gave no support to the Commonwealth countries' unanimous condemnation of the tests.]

Mr. Carr

My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, of all hon. Members, could never be accused of being afraid to come to the Dispatch Box or to stand up in the country and explain his policies. Of course, I will give the hon. Gentleman's message to my right hon. Friend. On the substance of the issue, I think that this is an area where deeds speak louder than words. The actions of this Government and of all Ministers of this Government on non-proliferation speak for themselves.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Reverting to the business for Friday of next week, will the Leader of the House say why he was not prepared to give one day to the very important education order? Will he also explain to hon. Members that the religious leaders consulted naturally agreed because it was in their interests to ensure that they had majorities in school managing committees? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that other religious bodies which did not transfer schools back in the early 1920s were not consulted? Is he aware, further, that this Measure received a Second Reading at Stormont in the course of a very late sitting, that there was no Committee stage, and that what he now asks us to do is to rubber stamp a Bill which was produced by the Stormont Government without any possibility of Amendments being carried? In consideration of these very important points affecting all the people of Northern Ireland, will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw the education order which is due to be discussed next Friday and look again at this very important matter so that there may be an opportunity for Amendments or for alternative proposals to be considered by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State?

On the appropriation order, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is the usual practice for individual constituency matters to be discussed, and that there are many constituency matters which are troubling hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland, who feel that we should take time to discuss these very important matters?

Mr. Carr

I am sure that it is not the job of the Leader of the House to enter into any discussion of the substance of these issues, although I take note of what my hon. Friend says. I know that he holds those views deeply, and I respect him for that. But it is not my job to enter into any debate about them.

As for the business of the House, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that under the procedure which I have proposed it will be possible for the education order to have 6½ hours of debate and for there to be a further 1½ hours of debate on each of the other three orders, if the House so wishes. For any order in this House, whether it be in respect of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England, to have the chance of that length of debate is not too bad.

Mr. Thorpe

In view of the uncertainty about the progress of the Government's business in both Houses, will the Leader of the House consider making a statement during business questions next week about the possibility of deferring Prorogation until November or even December, thereby making it possible for the House to have a normal recess?

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Early Day Motion No. 407, arising out of the bankruptcy proceedings of Mr. Poulson? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that they involve a variety of different matters of public interest, and that the House would like either a statement or a debate at an early date? Since the minority recommendation of the Select Committee was that Members should register their interests, as that was the only guarantee that Members, involved in commercial transactions however innocently, were given adequate protection, should not this matter be debated urgently?

That this House, gravely concerned at the allegations made by Mr. John Poulson in bankruptcy court proceedings that he had paid substantial sums of money to two back-bench Members of Parliament, another substantial payment to a body at the request of a Privy Counsellor, further payments to a senior civil servant and to two other persons holding prominent positions in public life, and mindful of the deserved reputation of this country for probity in public life, calls on Her Majesty's Government to order an immediate inquiry into the matter with a view to reporting to this House on the truth or otherwise of these allegations; and further believes that the fact that such allegations can be made has shown the lack of wisdom of successive governments in rejecting the evidence given by the Liberal Parliamentary Party to the Select Committee on Members' Interests> (Declaration) 1969 and the draft recommendations of the Liberal Member on that Committee.]

Mr. Carr

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point about the recess, I can assure the House that its Leader is just as anxious to have a holiday as any other hon. Member. I cannot comment in detail on what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I shall use all possible ingenuity to ensure that we have a holiday if we can. Whether my ingenuity is successful depends to some extent on the activities of hon. Members in all quarters.

On the very important Motion to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, I am very well aware of the widespread public interest in this matter. We have called urgently for a transcript of the evidence and for all other public documents relating to the case. When we have them, they will be examined with great urgency, and we shall, in an appropriate way, inform the House of the action that we think it right to take.

On Members' financial interests, as a new Leader I should certainly be prepared to look again at this matter if that were the wish of the House. However, I am sure the House will realise that a Select Committee has looked at this matter carefully, seen great difficulties in it, and turned it down. If it is the wish of the House, I should be prepared to look at it again.

Mr. Crouch

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at about this time on Thursday every week I am extremely concerned lest he should mention the Museums Bill coming back as among the business for the following week? I wonder whether he can put me out of my anxiety in future weeks.

Mr. Carr

I certainly cannot put my hon. Friend out of his anxiety. It is simply that there is no time for it next week.

Mr. Faulds

Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to his right hon. Friends the Foreign and Home Secretaries the general feeling of this House that the traditional attitudes of this country in accepting political refugee organisations should not be abrogated—I am talking of the PLO—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"]—particularly when the position of these dispossessed people was created by a Foreign Secretary of this country, and no tautological historical arguments would justify the removal of these people from their territory?

Mr. Carr

I note what the hon. Gentleman said, but it is not a question for me on next week's business.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Since the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) has again raised the question of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, has my right hon. Friend——

Hon. Members


Mr. Biggs-Davison

It is called the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which is an umbrella for a number of terrorist organisations, one of which destroyed four aircraft, and another claims responsibility for the murder of the Jordanian Foreign Minister. Regarding the Motion on the Order Paper and the helpful Amendments to it, will my right hon. Friend consider whether we should debate this matter, perhaps in the context of a debate on foreign affairs? If this country is deficient in the legislation necessary to deal with this kind of threat, will my right hon. Friend come to the House and ask us to expedite the legislation which may be necessary?

Mr. Carr

I do not think I should comment on the substance of that matter, except to say again that I realise the importance which hon. Members attach to it. I will convey these thoughts to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the White Paper on the future of the research councils be published next week? If not next week, will the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the great need of the reseach councils to go ahead with their future planning in the light of Government policy, tell the House when that White Paper will be emerging?

Mr. Carr

It will definitely not be emerging next week, but it will, I hope, emerge as far as possible before the end of July. I think the House would agree that, among other things, we would wish to be able to study the further report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, just published, before committing ourselves finally to print.

Mr. Wilkinson

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early Day Motion No. 360 in the names of some 50 hon. Members on both sides of the House about British participation in the post-Apollo programme?

That this House notes with approval the Air League's brochure, Watch This Space—And Act Now; welcomes its reference to that passage in the Fifth Report from the Select Committee on Science and Technology which reads 'when a definite proposal is considered, we hope that in co-operation with Europe the United Kingdom will vigorously pursue the potentialities of participation (in the post-Apollo programme)'; believes that such participation need cost no more than £9 million per annum, or about a third of the sum now spent on space research; and urges Her Majesty's Government to decide now to take part in the Space Shuttle programme even if this means discovering a method of co-operating with the United States of America alone.]

In view of the imminent decision to be taken on the 11th of this month at the European Space Conference, will my right hon. Friend, in the light of the changed circumstances regarding participation in the American programme, take this Motion as evidence of the earnest desire of the House for an opportunity to debate Britain's rôle in space as a whole?

Mr. Carr

I understand the concern of many hon. Members in these matters, not only expressed in the Motion, and their desire for a debate. I wish I could see time for a debate on this matter in the near future, but I am afraid I cannot.

Mr. William Hamilton

May I press the right hon. Gentleman on the urgent need for a debate on the report on the Select Committee on Members' Interests (Declaration)? This report was laid in 1969 and has remained undebated since. As a senior civil servant and a Minister of the Crown have been mentioned in the bankruptcy case to which reference has been made, does not the right hon. Gentleman feel under some obligation to ensure that the House debates that report before we rise, and that meanwhile the civil servant concerned, who has admitted receiving this money, ought to be suspended?

Mr. Carr

It would be wrong for me to comment off the cuff on the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, except to reiterate what I said earlier. We are acting with great urgency in this matter, but it is important that action should not be taken just on Press reports.

Mr. William Hamilton

It has been admitted.

Mr. Carr

Yes, but it is right, when individuals' records are at stake, to get all the details and transcripts and examine them. Those we have called for, and we will examine them urgently. We will then announce as quickly as possible what is to be done.

Mr. William Hamilton

That is not good enough.

Mr. Carr

I do not think it would be good enough either to disregard the proper rights to justice and fair treatment which all citizens possess.

Mr. William Hamilton

It has been admitted.

Mr. Carr

This matter should be properly inquired into before any action is taken. It will be done urgently, but considered properly. I think that is right.

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, as he knows, the report is now several years old and perhaps it should have been debated. I will consider this matter. I certainly cannot offer any time next week.

Mr. Kilfedder

Despite the explanation my right hon. Friend has given about Friday's business, does he not yet appreciate that Ulster people will regard it as an insult that Northern Ireland orders should be taken either late at night or early in the morning or, as now proposed, at the tail end of the week? Will he please reconsider taking all the orders together on the one day because two of them, the education and libraries order and the appropriation (No. 2) order, require a full day each for debate?

Mr. Carr

I have done my best to help my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Northern Ireland. I cannot accept that there is anything improper about debating a matter on a Friday. What is wrong with a Friday? I can see more objection to the middle of the night, although those of us who have served in Parliament for any length of time know that we have to debate very important matters in the middle of the night. If we start saying we cannot debate matters on a Friday, I am not sure what we shall do.

Mr. Loughlin

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the figures issued this week by the Nationwide Building Society from which it is obvious that house prices are still rising at an astronomical rate? Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction to come to this House with definite proposals to deal with what is now, and has been for the last 12 months, the biggest scandal in this country?

Mr. Carr

I will certainly inform my right hon. Friend of what the hon. Gentleman has said, although I cannot admit the premises of his statement. That is not for me to debate.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Regarding the complaints of Ulster Unionist Members about Friday and the right hon. Gentleman's wise words in reply, as most Ulster Unionist Members will have Wednesday off from the service of this House, it being 12th July, is it not proper that they should make up the lost time on Friday in the way suggested?

On a more serious matter regarding questions to the right hon. Gentleman about the stationing of the Arab organisation in London, will he undertake that we shall have a statement from a responsible Minister on this matter this week?

Mr. Carr

I take seriously the last point which the right hon. Gentleman has made. I cannot promise a statement on a particular day, but I have taken note of the fact that there is real concern about this matter from various——

Mr. Faulds

Both ways.

Mr. Carr

—from both points of view. I will speak to my right hon. Friend about it.

Mr. Hooson

May I refer again to Early Day Motion No. 407? Whilst appreciating the seriousness and urgency with which the Government regard this matter, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to arrange that copies of the transcript of Poulson's evidence are placed in the Library so that back benchers may have the opportunity of considering it?

Mr. Carr

I shall seek the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend about that, if I may. If there is no legal reason against doing so, I should like to help the House in that way.