HC Deb 08 June 1972 vol 838 cc705-13
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will 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, 12TH JUNE—Private Members' Motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, there will be a debate on Northern Ireland Affairs, when the House will be invited to approve Motions on Northern Ireland Orders relating to Appropriation, Employers' Liability and Exported Animals.

TUESDAY, 13TH JUNE and WEDNESDAY, 14TH JUNE—Further progress in Committee on the European Communities Bill.

THURSDAY, 15TH JUNE—Supply (21st allotted day): Debate on the Report of the Pearce Commission on Rhodesian Opinion (Command No. 4964).

Completion of the remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill.

FRIDAY, 16TH JUNE—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 19TH JUNE—Supply (22nd allotted day): There will be a debate on Yorkshire and Humberside, on an Opposition Motion.

Mr. Wilson

With regard to Thursday's business on Rhodesia, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, while this is nominally being taken on a Supply day, this is because for the second time in recent weeks we have lent the Government a Supply Day? It must obviously come out of Government time. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake that it will be returned to us in the present Session?

Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on our side of the House decided this morning not to attempt to seek your authority, Mr. Speaker, to table a Private Notice Question on the rail dispute on the ground that it might be more helpful not to do so today? However, the right hon. Gentleman should know that the House wishes to have a statement from the Minister responsible at the earliest appropriate moment, either tomorrow or Monday—[Hon. Members: "Tomorrow."] There may be good reasons why it should not be tomorrow. That must be within the discretion of the Government.

Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to let us have a statement by the appropriate Minister about the threats issued under the Industrial Relations Act to a constituency Labour Party in respect of a resolution passed by it and, I think, published in the local paper on a matter of public policy? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those threats involve the possibility of imprisonment and distraint? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask whoever is the appropriate Minister to reply for the Government to make the position on this matter clear? We are sufficiently concerned about Parliament, the Press and television being gagged. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that some degree of public discussion on matters of public importance can continue without threats of action for contempt?

Mr. Carr

Dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I acknowledge gratefully that the Supply Day for Rhodesia is on loan from the Opposition. It is a loan that I shall feel bound to repay this Session—[Hon. Members: "Two days."] I thought that I had accepted that.

As for the railways, certainly I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I know that he will be anxious to make a statement to the House at the earliest opportunity that he feels appropriate. I will make clear to my right hon. Friend the desire of the House to have it as early as possible.

On the right hon. Gentleman's third point, I should like a chance to study this matter. But, there again, I will talk to my right hon. Friend about it. However, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed in the Votes today that the Procedure Committee will be producing its report shortly on its study of the sub judice rule.

Mr. Maude

Can my right hon. Friend clarify a little the Northern Ireland business on Monday after seven o'clock? I understood my right hon. Friend to say that the House would be invited to approve a number of specific orders, but I thought that my right hon. Friend began by saying that there would be a debate on Northern Ireland affairs. Is there to be a general debate followed by a number of orders? If so, how long will these pieces of business last?

Mr. Carr

I understand from conversations that I have had that it may be convenient if from seven to ten o'clock there is a general debate on Northern Ireland affairs arising on the Adjournment and that at ten o'clock we should move on to debate the three orders. Subject to Mr. Speaker's views, and assuming that it is generally acceptable, they will be taken in a way which allows the greatest width of discussion for the maximum time. Theoretically, the three orders could each take 1½ hours. That is a total of 4½ hours. If they were discussed together and taken in a certain order, this could achieve a wide-ranging debate until the end of that time.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not certain about the result of the interchange between my right hon. Friend and the Leader of the Opposition on contempt. Whether it involves a constituency Labour Party, Conservative Party or Liberal Party, surely if it is in contempt no exchange across the Floor of the House should save it from the disciplines which should flow from that.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) raises a point of order. But it is not a matter on which I have to rule today.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is very important. What has happened is that publicly paid functionaries—not the courts—have warned this party about contempt in relation to its resolution. The Leader of the House has undertaken to look into the matter. What this House must be careful about is public functionaries paid out of monies voted by this House interfering with the freedom of public discussion. While we welcome the report of the Select Committee, which will have to be debated in Government time very soon, we must not forget that this House cannot function without free comment in the country.

Mr. Speaker

Order. On these matters of contempt and the sub judice rule, I am continually being asked to rule in advance of a situation having arisen. I have ruled only one Question out of order—that was some days ago—on the ground that it related to a matter which was sub judice. I will deal with these matters as they arise, and I will administer the sub judice rule according to the instructions of the House based upon the report of the Procedure Committee.

Mr. Loughlin

May I draw attention to the scandal of ever-increasing house prices, a number of glaring examples of which have been given again today in the London Evening News? Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Construction to make a statement next week telling us what the Government intend to do about the present scandalous position?

Mr Carr

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's remarks and I will draw them to my right hon. Friend's attention. However, I remind the House that it is only a matter of a few weeks ago that my right hon. Friend took part in a debate on this subject.

Mr. Biffen

In order that we might have reasonable time in which to adjust our political safety belts, can my right hon. Friend say whether, either next week or sometime before the rising of the House for the Summer Recess, the Government intend to announce either a statutory wages freeze or a statutory incomes policy?

Mr. Carr

I advise my hon. Friend always to drive with his safety belt fastened.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when we are likely to have a debate on agriculture? Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that there is a very well-established precedent for this debate to take place very shortly after the Annual Price Review? Will he confirm that the over lading of the legislative timetable by the Government will not deprive us of this opportunity?

Mr. Carr

I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate on agriculture in the near future, but I take note of the hon. Gentleman's feelings.

Dame Irene Ward

When are we likely to have a discussion on the joint proposals put forward by the shipbuilders and the shipping industry, which are very important, especially in view of the fact that the Industry Bill, which is also very important, does not concern itself with shipbuilding and ship repairing? Since we are still, and hope to remain for a long time, a maritime power, it is tremendously important that these joint proposals should be put before the House and we hope that they will receive ministerial approval. This is a matter of great urgency. I should welcome a debate on it.

Mr. Carr

I note my hon. Friend's desire for a debate on this undoubtedly important matter. I shall discuss it with my right hon. Friend concerned. But I should be raising hopes falsely if I said that there could be a debate in the near future.

Mr. Dell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this morning, in Committee, we began to discuss the Industry BUI which repeals large sections of the Local Employment Act, 1972, sponsored by this Government and passed in this Session? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, further, that the Government cannot complain about the congestion in their time table when they have wasted parliamentary time in this way, and that they cannot use this as an excuse for putting on an important Measure like the Criminal Justice Bill late at night again when it cannot be debated adequately? Will the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, rearrange the time table so that the Report stage of the Bill may be debated at a reasonable hour and considered properly?

Mr. Carr

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. However, I had thought that the arrangements finally come to about the Criminal Justice Bill, although not ideal, were acceptable to the principal parties involved.

Sir Robin Turton

May I remind my right hon. Friend that when he last answered Business Questions, he said that he would like to arrange a debate on the outstanding reports of the Select Committee on Procedure. I notice that he has not included them for next week. Will he consider whether he can make a statement during the course of next week about the Government's attitude to some of the recommendations of the Select Committee which are becoming very much out of date? He will recollect, for example, that his predecessor said seven months ago that he accepted the recommendation about a Joint Committee to revise the form, drafting and amendment of legislation, which was a very important matter. But nothing has been done for seven months.

Mr. Carr

I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate in the immediate future. I will do my best to see that the Government's intentions on these matters, including that mentioned by my right hon. Friend, are made known as soon as possible, and I mean what I say when I use those words.

Mr. Thorpe

Reverting to the point about agriculture, since there was some doubt in the right hon. Gentleman's reply, will he at least concede that he accepts in principle that there must be a debate on the Annual Price Review in Government time fairly soon?

Mr. Carr

I take serious note of that. Undoubtedly it is a very important matter. In the past, probably it has been dealt with on Supply Days. But I do not want to make that a matter of principle. I realise its importance. However, I have no days to offer at the moment.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is more than a month since he said," Not this week" in answer to a request for a debate on the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure concerning the election of the Speaker and asking when the Government would move the necessary Motions, bearing in mind that the Government never know when it may be necessary to activate the new procedures. Obviously, it would be intolerable to use again the old procedure which has been condemned by the Select Committee. This cannot be postponed indefinitely, as the Government cannot control the date when it may be necessary to use the new procedure.

Mr. Carr

I accept, as did my predecessor, that these are important matters. As a new Leader of the House I felt that I must have a little time to study and take them on board, so I take the blame for the delay on my shoulders. I will try to make those announcements as early as possible.

Mr. C. Pannell

Mr. Speaker, may I ask whether you are feeling well after that question?

Mr. Torney

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a Motion has appeared on the Order Paper in the names of nearly 200 of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the subject of agricultural workers' wages?

[That this House notes the mounting anger among farm workers due to their continuing poor wage structure and conditions and, in particular, the flat rejection by the Agricultural Wages Board of their re-submitted claim for an £18, 40 hour, five-day week; notes further that output per farm worker in recent years has risen by 6 per cent, annually; and calls upon the Minister to investigate urgently both the working and constitution of the Board as a step towards securing a just and realistic award and conditions comparable to those of the average skilled industrial worker.]

In view of the importance of agriculture to the production of the nation's food and the economy as a whole, and in view also of the scandalously low wages being paid to agricultural workers, may we have an assurance that this important matter will be debated in the near future?

Mr. Carr

This is an important matter, and there are well-defined statutory procedures for dealing with it, but I cannot promise a debate in the immediate future.

Mr. Kilfedder

May I ask my right hon. Friend to explain why the debates on the Northern Ireland orders, some of which are complicated and all of which are important, are restricted by the Government to 1½ hours each and, worse still, why they are to be debated late at night, like some third-rate movie at its umpteenth showing? This is a disgrace.

Will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that we may have a full day's debate on Northern Ireland before the end of this month, because I take the view, and I think the people of Northern Ireland do, that a 3-hour debate on Monday night is derisory? Stormont has been suspended, the democratic processes have been suspended and this is the only Parliament that we have, and we are treated in this bad way.

Mr. Carr

I understand and respect the strong feelings of my hon. Friend and, indeed, those of his colleagues from Northern Ireland. The debate on Monday will run, in total, to about 7½ hours. There will be a continuous debate on Northern Irish affairs. I know that it would be more convenient if the debate could be held at an earlier hour, but in the years that I have been in the House I have seen some most important matters concerning England, Scotland and Wales perforce debated on many occasions late at night. We are doing what we can in this matter.

Dr. Miller

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, as there are murmurs of discontent particularly among the lower echelons of the BBC, and also as, in the near future, the BBC's charter will be coming up for renewal, he will at an early date institute a debate on broadcasting? Will he also take into account the fact that there has to be a devolution of broadcasting services throughout the country?

Mr. Carr

The matter is important, but the hon. Gentleman rather exaggerates when he talks about the charter coming up for renewal at a very early date. The charter expires in 1976. We must make plans in good time, but it is hardly the most urgent matter for debate in the House at the moment.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I must preserve the business of the House. Mr. Pavitt.

Mr. Pavitt

Is the right hon. Gentle man aware that there has been an inordinate delay between the publication of the consultative document on the National Health Service—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Pavitt, to give notice of the presentation of a Bill.