HC Deb 16 March 1972 vol 833 cc769-75

Standing Order No. 23

Line 7, leave out from 'order' to end of line 14.

Standing Order No. 24

Line 1, leave out paragraph (1) and insert

(1) Whenever Mr. Speaker is satisfied, whether upon a report made to him or otherwise, that a Member has been guilty of the offence of grossly disorderly conduct or gross disregard of the authority of the Chair or persistently and wilfully obstructing the business of the House by abusing the Rules of the House, or otherwise, whether in the House or in a Committee of the whole House, then at the commencement of Public Business on the next sitting day (other than a Friday)after the day on which such offence was committed Mr. Speaker may name such Member, whereupon on a Motion being made 'That such Member be suspended from the service of the House' Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the question.

Line 60, at end add 'nor to deprive Mr. Speaker of the power to rule that a Motion relating to the conduct of, or to any complaint made against, a Member may take precedence over the Orders of the Day'.]

Can the Leader of the House give serious consideration to the questions involved and give the House an opportunity to consider them, if necessary after referring them to the Select Committee?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have certainly noted the important points made by the hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends. They are important matters, and they are certainly worthy of consideration. They would fall within the remit of the Select Committee on Procedure, but when and whether that was taken up would be a matter for the Chairman. I note what the hon. and learned Member has said.

Mr. Thorpe

Reverting to the police raids and accepting, as I think the whole House does, that we want to see brought to book those who indulged in terrorism in Aldershot or anywhere else, I wonder whether the Leader of the House is aware that many of us accept that presumably bench warrants were issued by the magistrates in the normal course and, therefore, strictly in law there can be no objection. None the less these applications, on such a wide scale must be an expression of some previously agreed policy, and the policy and the exercise of discretion by the police are matters on which the Home Secretary is entitled to make his views known, particularly in the Metropolitan area, for which he is directly responsible. He has responsibility for general policy, and it is on that that the House would like a statement.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says about general policies. I am not sure I can go with him in the deduction that he drew from that general point, but at this stage it is right for me to stick to what I have said and simply say that I note the point. What I have said represents the correct position, and, therefore. I cannot promise anything further.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Arising out of the point by the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), would my right hon. Friend say whether he has had an approach from the Opposition so far to enable them to follow the very proper lead given them by the Leader of the Opposition on upholding the position of the Chair. If no other approach has been made, might the hon. and learned Member's motion give us an opportunity to consider the matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have had no such approach, but I take this opportunity to endorse very warmly what the Leader of the Opposition said about the value of the two Front Benches uniting in support of the Chair.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

May I follow the Leader of the Liberal Party in his request to the Leader of the House to reconsider the matter of a statement by the Home Secretary. We fully recognise that the police must have as their first duty the prosecution of evidence against those who may be responsible for extreme criminal offences such as look place at Aldershot. But it would be very dangerous if this became in any way bound up with the question of civil liberties. I wonder, therefore, whether, in view of the extensive nature of the arrests in London and the amount of Press comment being aroused by it, it might be wise, in the interests of all those concerned with justice, for the Home Secretary to make a statement.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Lady has said about the civil liberties and what the Leader of the Liberal Party has said. It would be wrong for me to go further than the careful statement I made this afternoon. I think that is the right position. I can therefore make no further commitment, but I note what has been said and will pass it on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Stratton Mills

I recognise that the House is anxious for information on Northern Ireland, but will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that after the discussions with Mr. Faulkner it is of vital importance to allow him full and adequate time to consult his Cabinet colleagues? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance, which I am sure he will give willingly, that there will be no attempt to railroad a decision through speedily merely for the convenience of the House, but that the overall consideration will be what is right and what will be an acceptable general solution?

Mr. Whitelaw

I can certainly give my hon. Friend one assurance. There is no question of railroading something through for the convenience of this House. Surely this House is seeking to take the right decisions in an extremely difficult situation and not just for its own convenience. As for the rest, as I have said, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland is coming over next Wednesday and it is right to await those discussions.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I support what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. Will he recall that when a Bill was passed through the House by somewhat unconventional methods with the support of the Opposition it was on the understanding that we would be given a chance to debate Northern Ireland and the issues raised by the Bill shortly afterwards? We then said we would postpone asking for that debate until the Government initiative came forward because it would be more meaningful to debate it then. With this long delay it now means that in no circumstances will the debate be earlier than next Wednesday, getting into the seven-week period, or perhaps some little time after that. We shall now have to do what we were reluctant to do—ask for a debate before the Government initiative.

With regard to railroading, many of us will support what the Leader of the House said. But we are equally concerned that the period during which this initiative has been regrettably postponed should not have been used for the erection of road blocks to prevent any further progress in this House which is the imperial authority in this matter.

Mr. Whitelaw

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about the background. As for the rest of what the right hon. Gentleman said, these are all matters that it would be wiser for me not to become involved in at Business Question time.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

While we appreciate the burden on the right hon. Gentleman of ordering the business of the House, Scots Members are becoming tired of his stonewalling refusal to allow us a debate on the reform of local government in Scotland. In view of the exchanges yesterday, does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he is treating the Scots much more unfairly than the English and Welsh were treated last year when a parallel situation existed?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not think that any of my predecessors as Leader of the House or I could ever be accused of treating the Scots in terms of parliamentary time unfairly compared with their English and Welsh colleagues. That I put as an entirely non-party position. As for the question of when local government in Scotland can be debated, I note that the Scottish Standing Committee is currently heavily involved in the Housing (Financial Provisions) Scotland Bill. Perhaps if those discussions were speedily brought to a conclusion other opportunities might be open.

Mr. Booth

When will the Leader of the House propose time to debate the Dutch Elm Disease (Local Authorities) Order, a Motion concerning which was put on the Order Paper in the names of every member of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments?

[That the Dutch Elm Disease(Local Authorities) Order 1971 (S.I., 1971, No. 1708), a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th October, 1971, in the last Session of Parliament, be withdrawn.]

When will he find time to debate the Second Report of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, which deals with the matter? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is the view of that Select Committee that if local authorities operated one of the provisions of the order they would be acting illegally? Does he agree, therefore, that it is a matter of urgency that the House should come to a decision?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note the importance of the matter, and I am very ready to discuss time for the Prayer through the usual channels.

Mr. Moate

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is desirable that debates on reports such as that of the Tribunal on the Vehicle and General Insurance Company should take place as soon as possible after publication, particularly when certain civil servants have been criticised in them? When will time for a debate on the tribunal's report be provided?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is important, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his original statement, that time should be given for all those concerned to consider their positions. That is being done. I understand that certain aspects of the tribunal are to be discussed, thanks to the initiative of the Liberal Party, on Monday in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. That will give one opportunity. I have also for the future undertaken that there will be a debate on the tribunal, but I cannot say exactly when.

Mr. Pavitt

Does the Leader of the House intend to find time to discuss the proposed health ombudsman before the legislation is drafted? Is he aware that the statement of the Secretary of State for Social Services telling us of the intention to have a health ombudsman was so circumscribed that we shall be very dissatisfied unless we can have an exchange of ideas before finding ourselves discussing the legislation to institute that gentleman?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I cannot make any promise about the debate he asks for.

Mr. Ross

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the answer he gave about Scottish affairs and treat the matter with a little less flippancy than he did? We now have two papers, a White Paper on policy in relation to local government reform and a Green Paper on reform of local government finance. The Government have already issued statements about the redrawing of the boundaries, and they have been discussed by everyone except the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to ensure that time is given on the Floor of the House for the Scots to debate this most important issue?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. I have no desire to be flippant in the matter. As a Scotsman myself, I have no reason to be flippant. What I said was an unexceptional statement of the facts. I cannot promise time for debate immediately, but I note what the right hon. Gentleman says.