HC Deb 15 June 1972 vol 838 cc1730-8
Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)

Will the Leader of the House be good enough to 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, 19TH JUNE—Supply (22nd allotted day): There will be a debate on Yorkshire and Humberside, on an Opposition Motion.

Motion on the Housing Associations (Increased Contributions) Order.

TUESDAY, 20TH JUNE, WEDNESDAY, 21ST JUNE, and THURSDAY, 22ND JUNE—Further progress in Committee on the European Communities Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named Opposed Private Business for consideration on Tuesday and Wednesday.

FRIDAY, 23RD JUNE—Remaining stages of the Gas Bill.

MONDAY, 26TH JUNE—Supply (23rd allotted day); when there will be separate half-day debates on food prices and the development of Piccadilly Circus.

Mr. Wilson

When the right hon. Gentleman has had time to consider the events of last night, especially his own performance—I say nothing of the Prime Minister chickening out—will he consider making a statement next week on the points that were raised, especially in relation to a Report stage? I do not press him to make it today, because these are important issues affecting the House. But I give him advance notice that if that statement is not satisfactory we propose to move a Motion of censure on the Government both in respect of the events of last night and in respect of the Government's attitude to the whole conduct of this Bill in the House.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman will recall that I asked him last week for a statement in the House about the Eton and Slough question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor). Perhaps because of some oversight, Questions about it which were to come from this side of the House were not called today. May we be clear about the position with regard to free discussion?

Thirdly, on a related point, will the right hon. Gentleman say when we are to debate the report of the Select Committee on Procedure dealing with the sub judice rule so that this House will no longer have to be gagged for three or four weeks on questions of ministerial responsibility because a matter is being dragged out as a result of Government action before the courts?

Mr. Carr

Taking the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I will gladly join him in self-examination of our behaviour last night. That is always a healthy exercise, and I will join him if he will join me.

As for further progress on the European Communities Bill and the Report stage, I shall of course consider the possibility of making a statement. However, I should repeat what is the position. It is that the timetable Motion to which we are operating now makes proper provision for there to be a Report stage, as I think I made clear last night—[Interruption.] Whether there is a Report stage depends entirely on decisions of the Committee.

My right hon. and learned Friend will continue to advise the Committee on the merits of Amendments as he sees them. It is then for the Committee to decide whether or not to accept my right hon. and learned Friend's advice. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will admit that the advice given by my right hon. and learned Friend is not, shall I say; always automatically accepted by all right hon. and hon. Members, even on this side of the Committee, so it really is a matter for decision by the Committee in the proper constitutional way. If an Amendment is carried, of course there will have to be a Report stage, and the Motion under which we are debating the Bill provides for that. I am not sure that I can say more about that, but I shall give it further thought.

As to the Eton and Slough case—when the right hon. Gentleman mentioned it last week I did not know that it related to that area—I have, as promised, spoken to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment about it. In the meantime, there has been the statement on 8th June by the President of the National Industrial Relations Court which I believe will be helpful, and which I think has cleared the air about comment here.

On the constituency point, there appears to be some misunderstanding. The matter is a little complicated, and perhaps I might explain it in detail by writing to the right hon. Gentleman, and to the hon. Lady as well, rather than try to cover the matter at length now.

On the final point about the sub judice rule generally, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the report from the Procedure Committee has been published this morning. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish to consider what it has to say. I recognise that this is a very important matter and that the House will wish to debate it as soon as we have had a reasonable chance to consider it and time can be found for it.

Mr. Wilson

On the last point, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said. Does he realisethat every day that goes by without a debate now that the report is available—we understand why it has taken so long to produce—means that the House is gagged on matters of public policy in a way which in the history of Parliament, certainly in this century, has never been the case before in respect of Ministers responsible to Parliament? Will he please speed it up all he can?

Secondly, dealing with the Report stage and Amendments to the European Communities Bill the right hon. Gentleman said that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster assesses the merits of Amendments as he sees them. Is it not clear to most hon. Members that the right hon. and learned Gentleman assesses the demerits of them without knowing what is in them so that there cannot be a Report stage? If it is the intention that the House should be cheated of a Report stage on this important Bill, of which there is every sign now, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that his timetable Motion does not cover Motions of censure?

Mr. Carr

On the first point, what the right hon. Gentleman said about the House having been limited in debate by the sub judice rule on matters for which Ministers are responsible is not true. I imagine that there have been many difficult and controversial occasions—for example, on inquiries into major disasters—on which Ministers have had some responsibility and where the House has perhaps been precluded from debating the matter by the sub judice rule.

But that is not really the point that I want to make. The point is that, whatever our view about what the sub judice rule should be, I think the House will agree that it is immensely important and urgent, but that everybody ought to have reasonable time for consideration before expressing firm conclusions about it. The matter is difficult, important and also urgent. I can only promise the right hon. Gentleman that the Government will consider the matter deeply and with as much urgency as they can muster.

Coming back to the European Communities Bill, it is not really my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who forms a judgment. It is 630 hon. Members of the House who, by their votes, form a judgment. The right hon. Gentleman mutters "Three-line Whip". If he looks at the history of the Bill and asks himself honestly which party has been gagged and which has not, I think he will agree that I am right.

Sir D. Renton

Would it not be without precedent and a lessening of the solemnity of the censure Motion if the Government were to be censured when they had won a Division?

Mr. Carr

I should have thought that it would be one of the most unconstitutional propositions that one could think of.

Mr. Thorpe

The Leader of the House will be aware that, although the Government have a majority of 26, on at least one occasion had the Opposition turned out in greater numbers there would have been a Report stage because an Amendment for which my colleagues and I voted would have been carried?

While warmly supporting the Leader of the Opposition in his assertion that the views of the House should be clearly expressed on this important issue of the European Communities Bill, may I ask the Leader of the House for an undertaking that Her Majesty's Government are prepared at any time to provide Government time for a debate on the wide-ranging issues of Europe, even during the course of the Bill, provided that it is on a free vote, with United Nations observers in the Lobby?

Mr. Carr

I suspect that I should have to refer this matter to the Procedure Committee before I could possibly fulfil the right hon. Gentleman's last request, but I think that the action which my right hon. Friends took in providing a free vote on our side of the House on the vital decision in principle on 28th October is an indication of our attitude. Thank goodness I have no responsibility for Whipping the Official Opposition.

Sir F. Bennett

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the disturbing reports during the last 24 hours about the commencement of a series of Nuremburg-type war crimes trials in Bangladesh. In view of the pending talks between the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India which could lead to peace on the sub-continent, may we look forward to a statement next week from my righthon. Friend the Foreign Secretary if this trend continues in order to clarify the issue and see what can be done to avert yet another tragedy there?

Mr. Carr

This is obviously an important matter from the point of view of world peace. My right hon. Friend has heard my hon. Friend's question, and I am sure that if there is anything to report to the House he will find an opportunity to do so.

Sir Elwyn Jones

In view of the serious difficulties arising from the application of the law of contempt to the proceedings before the Industrial Relations Court—difficulties which, unhappily, have by no means been resolved by the statement by the President of that court—would it not be desirable, as a matter of urgency, to submit this matter to the Phillimore Committee expressly for an interim opinion, and would the Leader of the House make a statement on this matter as soon as may be?

Mr. Carr

I am grateful for the spirit in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made that comment. I assure him that my right hon. Friend and I regard this as a serious matter. I do not think that he will expect me to give an off-the-cuff definitive answer to his ques- tion, but I shall consult my right hon. Friend about it.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Will my right hon. Friend consider urgently the possibility of a debate on the agriculture industry as we have not had one yet this year and it is urgent to have such a debate before we take a final vote on entry into Europe so that farmers and people in this country know how food prices will stand and what policies the Government have for reforming the CAP when we get in?

Mr. Carr

I cannot give any specific promise about an agriculture debate in the foreseeable future. I should have thought that these matters had been discussed to a considerable degree in our recent debates. I was asked about this last week, but since then I have looked up the precedents. I find that debates on agriculture have hitherto, certainly over the last decade, always been in Supply time, although the last time that such a debate took place was as long ago as 1965.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is expected on this side that the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications will in the next few days announce his decisions on applications to establish private cable television to serve new communities? Can he assure us that the Minister's decision in this regard will not be announced in a hole and corner manner, by means of an answer to a Written Question? Bearing in mind the impact that this decision is likely to have on family life in these new communities, can he assure us that it will be announced in a statement to the House?

Mr. Carr

I cannot accept, before I come to the particular point, that announcing decisions in Written Answers—particularly in view of the proposals just published by the Select Committee on Procedure—can fairly be described as a "hole and corner" manner. It is always a difficult matter to know what should be the subject of oral statements and what should not. While some hon. Members want them, others resent the interference with ordinary business. I will, however, consult my right hon. Friend.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

During the course of business next week, could my right hon. Friend find means of explaining to the House why the Opposition should find a Lord Denning judgment sacrosanct and admirable and a Sir John Donaldson judgment suspect and villainous, when they are both judges in the High Court?

Mr. Carr

I should be wrong to give my own views of these interesting propositions, let alone comment on the views of anybody else.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

In view of the serious effect that the law of contempt and the way in which it is being applied is having on free discussion in the Press and elsewhere, would it not be better if the Leader of the House, instead of expressing pious concern, found time next week for a simple one-Clause Bill amending the law of contempt as it applies to the Industrial Relations Court and limiting it purely to cases where there has been interference with witnesses?

Mr. Carr

That would be a very rash course to pursue. This is a very difficult matter and a very important one for freedom under the law. When I read the papers day after day, which seem to be fairly full of comment as well as news on these matters—[Hon. Members: "What about us?"]—the question that I was asked was about the Press—I hardly feel that they are labouring under tremendous restriction.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Would my right hon. Friend accept that those of us on this side who would wish to see Amendments accepted and made to the European Communities Bill, and the consequence of a Report stage, nevertheless strongly deprecate the intrusion of personalities into this matter and the sort of language used and strictures made by some right hon. Gentlemen last night?

Mr. Carr

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, but we all know that passions rise and, thank goodness, passions fall. I do not want to comment in any way which would cause them to rise again.

Mr. Ewing

In view of the widespread concern about North Sea oil, the debate which took place in another place last week and the statements made earlier this week by Sir William McEwan Younger, Chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland, would the right hon. Gentleman consider allocating time in the near future to a debate on this very important subject?

Mr. Carr

I realise that this is an important subject. I will think about it, but it is no good my pretending anything but that the pressure of subjects which we all want to discuss is very great and that it would take not just days or weeks but months if I were to satisfy even half of them.

Mr. Hazelhurst

When will the House return to consideration of the Local Government Bill? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many important Amendments on the Order Paper affecting boundaries and that it is important that there should be certainty in these matters?

Mr. Carr

I cannot give my hon. Friend a definitive statement, but it may be that this time next week I can say something about it.

Mr. Wilson

Two of the right hon. Gentleman's answers suggested that he thought that the House had not been inhibited in its right to put questions on ministerial responsibility inrelation to applications to the National Industrial Relations Court. Would he look into this and reconsider his answers, and consider whether it is not a fact that for three weeks we were unable to hold the Minister responsible to this House for his application to the court about the ballot, as earlier for a period we could not do in relation to the cooling-off period, and that even when that situation lapsed—one has to wait for the possibility of a still higher appeal—the Minister refused to answer any questions about his responsibility? Would the right hon. Gentleman look into this matter and see whether he can justify the statements that he has made today?

Mr. Carr

I cannot quickly recall the circumstances of my first answer earlier. The second, of course, just now, was, I thought, in reply to a question specifically related to the Press, rather than to this House, but of course I will look at what I have said and the answers than I gave.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Whitelaw, statement.

Mr. Paisley

On a point of order. Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that the House has been inhibited today from putting any question to the Leader of the House concerning a promise that he made that he would consult all the Members for Northern Ireland about the way in which legislation in future will be handled in this House? Are you aware that the people of Northern Ireland are now very concerned that one of the most important matters of legislation, in regard to education, will be put in a draft order before the House without any hon. Member being able to amend it?

Mr. Speaker

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is just about to make a statement about Northern Irish affairs. Mr. Whitelaw.

Mr. Atkinson

On a point of order. This concerns the statement recently made during business questions. Mr. Speaker, and your reaction to it. When the Leader of the Opposition raised one or two points about the inhibitions from which this House suffers when questions on the National Industrial Relations Court are being discussed, you indicated dissent by shaking your head, as though—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Chair must be judged by its spoken words and not by any gesture that it might make. I frequently shake my head for a variety of reasons. [Laughter.]

Mr. Atkinson rose

Mr. Speaker

Really, this is not a point of order.

Mr. Atkinson

If I might continue the point and ask for your guidance—

Hon. Members


Mr. Atkinson

Might I ask for your guidance on this question, Mr. Speaker? Could you now say whether you are free to judge the advisability of allowing a Standing Order No. 9 debate on the question of the docks dispute at the moment? Would you be free to allow such a debate if it was requested?

Mr. Speaker

Two points: first, it is hypothetical; second, this is not the right time in our proceedings to raise any question of a Standing Order No. 9 debate.