HC Deb 22 June 1972 vol 839 cc712-22
Mr. Harold Wilson

Will the Leader of the House kindly state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robert Carr)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday, 26th June—Supply (23rd allotted day): when there will be separate half day debates on food prices, on an Opposition Motion, and the Piccadilly, Covent Garden and other central London developments, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motions on the Asian Development Bank Orders and on the Customs Duty (Personal Reliefs) Amendment Order.

Tuesday, 27th June, Wednesday, 28th June, and Thursday, 29th June—Further progress in Committee on the European Communities Bill.

At the end on Tuesday, Second Reading of the Harbour Development (Scotland) Bill.

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

Friday, 30th June—Remaining stages of the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill [Lords] and of the Field Monuments Bill [Lords].,

Motion on the Grants for Wholesale Markets (Extension of Period) Order.

Monday, 3rd July—Supply (24th allotted day): Debate on a topic to be announced.

Mr. Wilson

In view of the widespread concern, at least on this side of the House, about the announcements with regard to steel redundancies—even if the Prime Minister clearly does not share that concern, as he showed by his political quip earlier this afternoon—will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on this matter, since it is one of the results of the failures of the policy announced by the Government in the last steel debate, when we on this side moved a Motion of censure?

Secondly, I know that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the feeling in the House about the need of an early debate on the sub judice rule in relation to the industrial relations legislation and, indeed, wider subjects raised by the Select Committee's Report. Is he aware that we on this side of the House will have to insist on a very early debate on the whole shambles of industrial relations, and that it will be extremely difficult for right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, and for Ministers, to debate the subject properly if we are still hamstrung by the old sub judice rule on which the Committee has reported?

Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman try at the earliest possible moment—I appreciate his difficulties—to give us a debate on it? If the Government accept the Committee's Report, I am sure that the House will be prepared to let the Motion go through with reasonable speed and dispatch. If the right hon. Gentleman can make progress, will he consider varying next week's business and putting on this item of business at an early stage, perhaps in the evening, so that we might debate the industrial relations situation at the earliest possible opportunity?

Mr. Carr

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we realise both the fundamental importance of the sub judice question and its great current interest. The Government have been considering the Committee's recommendations with the greatest urgency. The House will realise that the recommendations of the Select Committee concerning matters before the National Industrial Relations Court are set in the context of a major recommendation affecting proceedings in civil courts generally. It has been impossible to complete within the last seven days, which is all the time that we have had so far, the consultation and consideration necessary on such a major issue. However, I assure the House that, although I am unable to make a definitive statement today, I will make a definitive statement as soon as possible, and I realise that we need a debate on it as soon as we have done that. I cannot be more precise today. But I hope that the House believes that I regard this as a matter of urgency.

Perhaps I might now comment on the steel situation generally. I pass over for the moment the right hon. Gentleman's unwarranted remarks about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. But I must remind the Labour Party that the rationalisation of the steel industry was one of the purposes of nationalising it, and that the phasing out of open-hearth plants was part of it. My right hon. Friend—

Mr. John Mendelson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On a number of occasions hon. Members on the back benches have rightly been pulled up by you for straying into matters of policy during business questions. Is not it time that the same medicine was applied to the Leader of the House?

Mr. Speaker

I wish I could think that I had always called to order every hon. Member on the Opposition side who had strayed into these matters.

Mr. Carr


Mr. Robert Hughes

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it really in order for the Leader of the House to give a policy reply to a business question?

Mr. Speaker

If I am asked that question, I ask in return whether it is right to give a policy content to a business question.

Mr. Carr

My right hon. Friend will be having full consultations not only with the corporation but with trade unions, local authorities and Members of Parliament particularly concerned about the problem.

Mr. Buchan

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I respect your ruling, but the right hon. Gentleman's reply to a business question is taking the form of a statement on the steel industry, and it will not be subject to questioning from this side of the House. If you allow this kind of statement to be made in reply to business questions, will you allow the matter to be pursued by this side of the House?

Mr. Speaker

I shall tell the House quite frankly what I should prefer. I should prefer these questions to be confined strictly to the business for next week, and nothing else. Of course if that is done it would very much limit the chance of the Opposition ventilating their point of view on policy matters.

Mr. John Mendelson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman represents all hon. Members, and is called upon to look after the interests of all hon. Members. He is therefore in a different position when replying to business questions. He has no right to make a statement on the situation itself—a statement which will be reported tomorrow—and thereby enable his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to evade having to make a statement on behalf of the Government.

Mr. Speaker

I ask the House to be reasonable about this. All the time that I have been in the House the Chair has allowed considerable latitude when the Business Statement was being considered so that Members could ask questions on matters which did not arise out of the following week's business. In any case, the Chair has no responsibility for the content of an answer.

Mr. Carr

I am only seeking to reply, I believe justifiably, to the policy implications of the question put to me. It is a fact that under the nationalisation legislation— —

Mr. Mendelson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must see that the Minister completes his answer, and then I shall take a point of order.

Mr. Carr

This is a matter on which hon. Members have pressed both for a statement and now for a debate and I think that I am entitled to point out to the House in reply that under the nationalisation legislation the decision about which hon. Members are complaining is not the responsibility of my right hon. Friend.—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Leader of the House is entitled to point out when a matter is not a matter of ministerial responsibility.

Mr. Carr

I am pointing out in answer to the question that I have been asked that since the matter is the responsibility of the British Steel Corporation and not that of my right hon. Friend it has not been the practice of the present Government or of the previous one to make ministerial statements and to debate these issues, because they are within the competence of the British Steel Corporation under the legislation passed by the previous Government.

Mr. Harold Wilson

As we have had four steel debates in this Session, as I am giving notice that we require a further one and as in the last debate the Secretary of State's Ministers took part and defended the actions of the British Steel Corporation, will the right hon. Gentleman please forget that argument, which has not been practised in this House?

We have a lot of sympathy for the right hon. Gentleman having to defend the position of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Is he aware that there have been serious statements on steel closures—Derbyshire last Thursday, Manchester earlier this week, Scotland yesterday and again today—[An HON. MEMBER: "Question."]—I am asking whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware.—[Interruption.] This is not a laughing matter, as it affects thousands of jobs. A statement has been made in respect of Lancashire affecting some of my constituents. Would it be right, perhaps during business questions next week, for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement and stand his corner for his part of the responsibility in this matter?

Secondly, on the sub judice question, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome what he is trying to do in this matter? We recognise his difficulty, and appreciate that these consultations are important, but would he now answer my question? I asked whether, if he was able to complete the consultations in time, he would not hesitate to alter business next week so that we could get this out of the way as quickly as possible?

Mr. Carr

If I may deal with the last point first, if it is possible to reach decisions in time I shall certainly not hesitate to propose a change in the business.

Coming back to the steel issue, I think that the right hon. Gentleman must recognise that the general policy of rationalisation and reductions in manpower involved in that process are matters of ministerial responsibility. They have been recognised as such by both the present Government and by his Government, they have been debated, and they were so debated and recognised in the steel debate only a week or two ago. What the Minister does not have responsibility for are the executive decisions within that general policy, and neither the right hon. Gentleman's Ministers nor my right hon. Friend have ever accepted responsibility for particular executive decisions, because it would not be proper for them to do so within the legislation passed by the right hon. Gentleman's Government.

Mr. Crouch

On a more boring subject, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether we can expect a statement on the Channel Tunnel next week or in the near future, because there is considerable concern in Kent about the environmental aspects of what might happen if a decision were made to go ahead with it? May I further suggest to my right hon. Friend that we should have a debate on the subject in the House as soon as possible?

Mr. Carr

I understand the concern, particularly in the areas adjoining that which my hon. Friend represents, but there is little chance of a statement or debate next week.

Mr. Latham

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the concern felt by many hon. Members about the lamentable decision of the French Government to proceed with their nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for the Environment to make urgent statements to the House about the representations made to the French Government following the Stockholm conference on the environment, the curb on nuclear armament by America and Russia, and other encouraging moves, in that direction, to which the French seem remarkably insensitive?

Mr. Carr

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friends to what the hon. Gentleman has said. He could also put down a Question about it.

Mrs. Knight

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the extreme paucity of time allocated to Questions on health and social security? Because of Northern Ireland Questions, which no one would want to curtail, the Secretary of State for Social Services can answer questions only once a month. In view of the vast range of the Department's responsibilities will my right hon. Friend look at the matter to see whether there is a possibility of that Department answering questions more frequently?

Mr. Carr

I shall look at that. The rota of Questions is reviewed at regular intervals through the usual channels, and I am sure that what my hon. Friend has said will be taken note of.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the French nuclear tests in the Pacific may have taken place before there is an opportunity for a Question to be answered? Will he provide an opportunity next week for the Prime Minister to make a statement associating himself with the requests of the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand to the French Government to call off these nuclear tests in the South Pacific?

Mr. Carr

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will no doubt have heard that question, and I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to what has been said.

Rev. Ian Paisley

May I ask the Leader of the House when he will be in a position to announce how future legislation on Northern Ireland is to be brought before the House? Has he forgotten the promise he made to the Northern Ireland Members four weeks ago, that an early announcement would be made about how this legislation is to brought before the House? Is he aware that there is a very important draft on education, far reaching in its effects and causing grave concern in Northern Ireland, which is shortly to be taken by this House? Can he assure us that ample time will be given for the discussion of that? Does he not think that now is the time to prepare for a debate on Northern Ireland since so many things are happening there and as Northern Ireland is without its usual Parliament, which means that this is the only parliamentary forum that we have in which to air the interests and the feelings of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland, particularly with regard to the recent announcement of an IRA truce?

Mr. Carr

My right hon. Friend will shortly be making a statement on some of these matters. I would like to assure the hon. Gentleman that I have not forgotten my promise about dealing with Northern Ireland legislation. I am sorry that I have not been able to make a statement, but I am pursuing this urgently and I hope that it will not be too long before I can do so.

Mr. John Mendelson

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the co-ordination of Government publications, will he, with great urgency, publish all the correspondence that has passed between the Government and the Coal and Steel Community of the Common Market concerning the future size and possible expansion of the British steel industry? Will he confirm that it has always been agreed by Lord Melchett and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that strategy is laid down by the Cabinet and that Lord Melchett and the Corporation are obliged to act within that general strategy? Will he arrange a debate next week on the future of the steel industry?

Mr. Carr

I note the policy implications of the hon. Gentleman's question. I will draw this matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but I do not believe it is part of my responsibilities under the category he mentioned.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Reverting to what was said earlier about rationalisation questions in relation to the British Steel Corporation, will my right hon. Friend confirm that any announcement next week or in future weeks on major investment decisions will be made in the House? In particular, can he give us an assurance that a proposal for the Hunterston green field site steel works, which is crucial for the morale of Scottish steel, will be made shortly and in this House?

Mr. Carr

I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to this, but the House must recognise what it has always recognised ever since nationalisation measures were introduced; namely, that if nationalised corporations are to have the responsibility which the authors of nationalisation wished them to have, if they are to have independence and responsibility, there must be a limit to the executive decisions which have to be reported to, and questioned in, this House.

Mr. Grimond

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, while executive decisions in the steel industry are a matter for the British Steel Corporation, the throwing out of employment of further people, particularly on Clydeside, is a matter for the Government and also this House? Is he aware that the sooner we discuss this matter and alternative forms of employment, if nothing else, the better it will be? This must be done with some urgency.

Mr. Carr

I appreciate that, and that is why I tried to start my answer to the earlier question by saying that my right hon. Friend was to have urgent consultations with all the people concerned about the future needs and problems of these affected communities. It is also the reason why the Industry Bill is going through the House.

Mr. Fidler

Does my right hon. Friend recall that last Thursday in answer to a question about the Local Government Bill he promised that he would be in a position to make a statement this week? Bearing in mind that local authorities throughout the country are waiting to go ahead with whatever plans are necessary as a result of the Bill, can my right hon. Friend say how soon that Bill will come back to the House?

Mr. Carr

I do not think I promised. I think I said I hoped that I might be able to make a statement. I am sorry that the hope has not been fulfilled. I must defer the hope for a short time further.

Mr. Heffer

Since the right hon. Gentleman could not assure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that there would be a definitive statement this week about the Select Committee's recommendation on the question of the sub judice rule, could he say when precisely we shall get that definitive statement in view of the urgency of the situation? May we also be assured that we shall have an immediate debate following the statement, and could it be towards the end of next view, because of the difficult situation in which this House finds itself?

Mr. Carr

I have already said in answer to the Leader of the Opposition that if we are in a position to make a definitive statement next week I will not hesitate to try to alter the business of the House to fit it in. I cannot make a promise yet. This is a fundamental matter because the recommendations of the Committee in relation to the National Industrial Relations Court are set in the broad context of a major recommendation regarding the civil courts generally, and seven days is not very long to consider such an important matter as that. We do regard it as urgent.

Mr. Tugendhat

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I very much welcome the fact that Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden, both of which are in my constituency, are to be debated on Monday? Is he further aware that one short, three-hour, debate on the affairs of central London, when compared with the amount of time we devote to Scotland and Wales and other parts, does not really seem adequate to deal with the immense problems facing this area?

Mr. Carr

I see my hon. Friend's point but Monday's business is chosen by the Opposition, as is the allocation of time. I hope that half a loaf will be better than no bread, but I will talk to my hon. Friend about this problem.

Mr. Jay

Is it not the clear wish of the House that we should discuss the steel situation next week, and will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the Business Statement that he has made?

Mr. Carr

I fear I cannot do that. The House discussed the steel situation within the terms of ministerial responsibility a few weeks ago.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Will my right hon. Friend view with the greatest suspicion the request from the other side of the House to amend the sub judice rule before discussing industrial relations? Would he not agree that there is nothing to prevent the fullest, frankest and most helpful debate on industrial relations without interfering with the sub judice rule, which protects the independence of the law?

Mr. Carr

The sub judice rule is immensely important, and we all recognise that. Our Select Committee on procedural matters has made an important report, and it is that which the Government are studying.

Mr. Ross

In view of the reference earlier to the people of Scotland, will the Leader of the House direct a change of business for Monday and Tuesday and enable us to take the Piccadilly Circus, etc., business after 11 o'clock on Tuesday night, so that we can deal with the important Scottish Bill between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.? More seriously, would he look again at this Bill, on which we are anxious to co-operate with the Secretary of State for Scotland? Does he not think it a bit unfair to start it on a night when we can begin only after 11 o'clock? Will he think about some night after 10 o'clock rather than 11 o'clock?

Mr. Carr

I think it is better to leave it as it is, because the Bill is urgent and is wholly non-controversial. It is wanted by all sides. I think we shall find that we can take it properly when I have suggested. It is in the best interests of Scotland to have it on the Floor of the House as quickly as possible.