HC Deb 04 May 1972 vol 836 cc597-608
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)

The business for next week will be as follows:—

MONDAY, 8TH MAY.—Third Reading of the Housing Finance Bill.

Motion on the Prosecution of Offences (Northern Ireland) Order.

Lords Amendments to the Employment Medical Advisory Service Bill.

TUESDAY, 9TH MAY, WEDNESDAY, 10TH MAY and THURSDAY, 11TH MAY.—Progress on the Committee stage of the Finance Bill.

FRIDAY, 12TH MAY.—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 15TH MAY.—Further progress on the Committee stage of the Finance Bill.

Mr. Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on the fact that he has had to announce no guillotine Motion for next week. Will he undertake to make a statement next week—I am not asking for debating time—about the unprecedented pile-up of Statutory Instruments against which it is open to this House to pray? Is he aware that the number now contains quite a selection which are out of the praying period? While I understand that the Government are perfectly willing—and they are to be commended for provide time for a debate on them in the future even though they are out of time, the whole of our parliamentary procedure implies that this House has the right to nullify an order within the statutory period but under the Government's procedure all that we can have is a" take note" debate, by which time the order will have become law. Will the right hon. Gentleman now or next week inform us whether and when the Government are prepared to give a whole day for this accumulation of orders so that they may be debated at a reasonable hour of the day? Will he also consider the constitutional situation arising from the fact that the House has been denied its proper rights in these matters?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman look into the question of statements promised in this House and made outside the House? Last Thursday my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) asked the Prime Minister when a statement would be made in this House on the expected decision of the Government about marches in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister replied that a statement would be made very soon, which, in the context of the question, everyone assumed meant in this House. Many of us thought that it might be early this week or even on Friday morning. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware—and, if not, will he conduct an inquiry—that a statement was issued at 6 o'clock that evening in London and Belfast to coincide with a meeting of the 1922 Committee which discussed it? This House had no opportunity of discussing it on that day or on any other. Copies were handed out to the Press in the corridor outside Committee Room 14. Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that when we on this side of the House supported the Government's decision about direct rule and their proposals in respect of the transfer of security, we understood that that transfer of security was to be to the British Government and to this House, and not to the 1922 Committee?

Mr. Carr

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's second point, I must deny categorically the implication of what he has said about the timing and method by which my right hon. Friend made his announcement. It was not connected with the timing of the meeting of the 1922 Committee.

I shall consider the matter, because I assure the House that the object of the Government as a whole, and certainly, of all people, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is to make statements about important matters in the House. But I feel that the whole House will accord my right hon. Friend some tolerance, in his difficult days, in deciding the timing and methods of his announcements to take account of what he regards as particular needs, in view of the delicate situation in Northern Ireland. I shall speak to my right hon. Friend about that, and I am sure that he, of all right hon. Members, will be accepted in the House as wishing to tell the House what is happening whenever he can when it is appropriate to do so.

I now deal with the right hon. Gentleman's point about Statutory Instruments and Prayers. As I told the Leader of the Opposition last week, I am aware that we have a serious problem here. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is not a new problem, but has been growing for some time, and I remember, when I was on that side of the House, having to have a "take note" debate because the debate could not be held until after the statutory period had run out. There is a Joint Select Committee dealing with this matter, and I think that until it reports—with, I hope, some ideas for a solution—it may be difficult to deal with this problem as we would wish. It is perhaps worth saying in the meantime that there have been one or two occasions when time has been available for Prayers, but it has not been convenient for the Opposition to take them.

Mr. Wilson

The House may be waiting for the report of the Joint Select Committee, but the present situation is governed by the existing rules of the House, existing Standing Orders and the law of the land about delegated legislation. While there may have been odd occasions in the past when this has happened with Governments of both parties, the present pile up seems to be unprecedented.

I accept the right hon. Gentleman's last point, that there have been suggestions for taking individual debates, but during the period of the debates on the European Communities Bill this would have meant that the House would have been considering important orders pretty late at night and, indeed, in the early hours of the morning, which I think would not have been for the convenience of any hon. Member.

Turning to the other issue, when the right hon. Gentleman looks into the facts will he consider this matter? No one will doubt the utmost good will that is shown to the Secretary of State on both sides of the House, as we have proved in the House in the Division Lobby, and in all statements that we have made in the country. That is not in question.

Surely the Prime Minister must have known that he had been asked for a statement in the House when last week, at 3.30 p.m., he said that there would be an early statement. That statement was made 2½ hours later. Could not the right hon. Gentleman have arranged for it to be made in the House at 3.30? It must have been ready then. If that was not possible—and one has to think of Northern Ireland time, too—it should have been made in the House—the House would have understood this—at 11 a.m. on Friday. To make it at 6 o'clock, two and a half hours after the Prime Minister's statement in the House, was quite unsatisfactory.

Hon. Members, as hon. Members, did not receive any details of the announcement until considerably after its issue. Whether the matter was coincidental with the meeting of the 1922 Committee or a complete accident, the right hon. Gentleman has given his view on that. Nevertheless, it seems a marked discourtesy to the House, and the right hon. Gentleman must recognise that on the question of Northern Ireland too many statements have been made at Conservative meetings in the country. It will be better, if all of us are to co-operate in the Government's aspirations and intentions here, if as far as possible these statements are made in the House and not outside it.

Mr. Carr

I repeat that as far as possible statements will be made in the House. I can only assure the House of that again. It must, of course, be a matter of judgment for my right hon. Friend to decide on the timing and method of any announcement. What guided him on that occasion was one consideration only; namely, what he thought was right in connection with Northern Ireland. People may agree with that judgment or not, but I assure the House that that was the basis on which he made it.

I shall look into the problem about Prayers and do what I can, but I think it is fair to point out that one or two Prayers could have been taken last Monday evening at the normal hour.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Whilst agreeing totally with what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about certain matters being outside the European Communities Bill, may I ask my right hon. Friend to consider that there are two major political issues which must be discussed by the House'? One is representation in the European Parliament, and the other is the control—or attempted control —of legislation in Brussels and a preview by this Parliament before Ministers make decisions. Would it not be appropriate to produce a Green Paper on the Government's proposals on those two issues, which can then be debated in the House as a special matter during the next few months?

Mr. Carr

My right hon. Friend has made it clear that the question of representation in the European Parliament could, and should, be a matter for debate in the House. We realise that, but this does not come about for some time, and so I cannot offer any immediate hope of a debate. I think that my right hon. Friend has made clear the principle of a debate.

On the second point, I am very much aware of the necessity—I think that that is not too strong a word—of devising proper ways of dealing with the European business in this House. It may be that some hon. Members feel that this can be looked at more appropriately in depth when we have made more progress on the European Communities Bill.

Mr. John Mendelson

As, in his new position, the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the co-ordination of Government publications—as his predecessor was—may I ask him to arrange for the publication of the minutes of the Lancaster House Conference of sugar producers so that the House may test the discussions there against the misstatement by the Prime Minister this afternoon that the Commonwealth sugar producers did not ask for that agreement to be written into the treaty? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do that so that the House will be able, through this documentation, to judge the deliberate misleading of the House this afternoon by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Can

I cannot accept that imputation from the hon. Gentleman. As to the publication of the minutes of an international conference, that would not be for the decision of this Government alone.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that the easiest palliative, if not cure, for the delay in dealing with Prayers is to change the law by means of a one-Clause Bill so that 40 praying days are 40 days in which Prayers can be taken by the House, which would exclude Saturdays and Sundays, on which Prayers cannot be taken?

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that on the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Bill the Attorney-General gave a specific undertaking that the Bill would make that provision, but he reneged on his undertaking, and when I divided the House on an Amendment to carry out the Attorney-General's promise the Government opposed it, as did the Opposition?

Mr. Carr

I confess that I am not aware in detail of the events which my hon. Friend has recorded, but I am not sure whether his account is fully accurate —[Interruption.] I am not sure whether his recollection is fully accurate. I do not know. But I believe that before we start changing the law and our proposals in fundamental ways for dealing with this matter we should have the report of the Joint Select Committee.

Mr. Driberg

Has the right hon. Gentleman had time yet to consider one legacy from his predecessor—the legacy of a promise, which has not been kept, of an early debate on the televising of Parliament?

Mr. Can

I am aware of that commitment. I shall take it on board as soon as possible.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Apart from the one item on Monday's business, can my right hon. Friend indicate when the great bulk of Northern Ireland legislation—20 to 30 Bills in the pipeline—is likely to proceed? These Bills are part of the reform programme and some of them relate to economic development as well as the Budget. In particular, can he assure us that the major issues in this legislation will be dealt with on the Floor of the House and not pushed upstairs into some obscure and anonymous committee?

Mr. Carr

I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend any indication today, but I am in discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about this.

Mr. David Steel

Will the right hon. Gentleman adopt the helpful suggestion that to ease the congestion of business the Government should drop the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Bill?

Mr. Carr

I hope to be making an announcement about further progress on the Bill in some future business statement.

Dame Irene Ward

When discussing the Finance Bill next week, are we likely to be able to get a statement on what the Government intend to do about shipping? The statement was held up because of important discussions taking place, and the shipping community would like to know when Government policy is to be finalised. Could it be included in the proceedings on the Finance Bill somehow or other next week?

Mr. Carr

I doubt whether it could be included in the Finance Bill next week, but I hope that it will be included in something else as soon as possible.

Mr. Denis Howell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the concern of large numbers of sports organisations at the way in which the Wheatley Report was issued and leaked the night before without being given to this House and was accepted by Written Answer? It imposes colossal expenditure on sport on top of the 10 per cent. VAT, and there is to be no relief from the Government for football for this matter, even though they have given a lot of help to horse racing in a similar situation. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Home Secretary to make an early statement and for us to debate the matter?

Mr. Carr

The first step is to have some consultations, which is what my right hon. Friend has promised, with all the sporting interests, local authorities and others concerned. I think that this process should go further before we have a debate.

Sir Robin Turton

May I revert to the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) that there should be a Green Paper on how Parliament might deal with the EEC legislation? Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind the Leader of the Opposition's observations about the blockage in Statutory Instruments? Will he consider, before we get to the next day of discussion on the European Communities Bill, publishing a Green Paper dealing with exactly how he envisages that Parliament should handle directives under the Bill as it is now drawn?

Mr. Carr

I do not think I can promise my right hon. Friend that, but I have said that I realise that it is a necessity that we should devise something and consider it as quickly as possible.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the greater Manchester area we are moving into the seventh week of an industrial dispute which affects more than 20 factories and more than 15,000 engineering workers, and that at no time during the past six weeks has the Secretary of State for Employment exercised his obligation to conciliate in the dispute? Will the right hon. Gentleman have discussions with the Secretary of State with a view to a statement on the situation to the House next week?

Mr. Carr

I will certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Captain Orr

Will my right hon. Friend consider again the whole question of Northern Ireland business? We are grateful to him for the undertaking that statements of policy will be made in this House, and one understands how the difficulty has arisen, in that formerly statements very often were made in Belfast. But that was when there was a Parliament in Belfast. Now, this is the only Parliament in which the people of Northern Ireland are represented.

Secondly, the Chair, as you, Mr, Speaker, are no doubt aware, is placed in very great difficulty over Private Notice Questions. Very grave events occur almost daily in Northern Ireland which would be the subject of Private Notice Questions or ministerial statements in this House if they happened in the rest of the United Kingdom. One could not imagine a Courtaulds factory being blown up in England without there being a ministerial statement. This is causing very great concern amongst the electorate in Northern Ireland because their representatives are quite unable by any means, except irregular action, to raise these matters. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that this question will be looked at with a view to making fairly regular statements about serious incidents which occur, or perhaps progress reports on what is happening, so that the House will have an opportunity of scrutiny?

Mr. Carr

I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend would not wish to indulge in any irregular action. I shall be discussing this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland urgently.

Mr. W. Baxter

Will the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider a debate, either in the House or in the Scottish Grand Committee, on the very important question of the reorganisation of local government in Scotland? This is very much overdue and there should be a debate very soon.

Mr. Carr

I am aware of the desire for a debate on this subject, but I cannot offer time for it on the Floor of the House in the near future. I will discuss the matter further with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Tebbit

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the position with regard to Private Members' Bill which makes it unlikely that the Home Ownership Bill, dealing with the sale of council houses, sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden), will become enacted this Session? As this is an extremely popular and much wanted Measure, can my right hon. Friend undertake to give Government time to it?

Mr. Carr

I am afraid that I could not undertake to give Government time for Private Members' Measures of this or any other kind. There is no selectivity about it; there just is no time. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) must look at the other procedures of the House.

Mrs. Renee Short

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) intends to move a Motion on nursery education on Friday, 12th May? Will he ensure that the Secretary of State for Education and Science comes to the House for that debate? Is he aware that the right hon. Lady recently received a petition with 360,000 names on it? Surely, this should pre-empt her presence in Parliament that day? We do not want any understudies of the Secretary of State to come here and repeat the same old worn-out and dangerous philosophy that she is concentrating all her efforts on primary school building. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that the Secretary of State will be here?

Mr. Carr

I cannot give an undertaking like that without notice. Equally, I will convey the message to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Mr. Redmond

It is some months since the publication of the White Paper on Metrication, a well balanced document, but is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a feeling in the country that metrication is creeping up on us? Can we have time to debate the White Paper?

Mr. Carr

Not next week.

Mr. Booth

The right hon. Gentleman, in connection with the important issue of outstanding Prayers on Statutory Instruments, referred to the Joint Committee on Delegated Legislation. But does he not agree that any recommendations of the Committee for improving the situation with regard to the control of legislation in this important area of our activities will in no way solve the problem of the outstanding Prayers? Does he accept, therefore, that there is an obligation upon him to this House to propose a timetable whereby the House may exercise its constitutional right to control delegated legislation?

Mr. Carr

I understand the point made by the hon. Gentleman and his particular concern, based upon his service on the Committee and his desire to serve the whole interests of the House. There is a real problem here, but at the moment I cannot see a solution to it.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Has the Leader of the House seen Motion No. 301?

[That this House most heartily congratulates the noble Lord Shinwell on his third marriage which took place on May Day 1972 in his 88th year and in the 50th year after his first election as a Member of Parliament; and wishes both her Ladyship and the noble Lord very many years of happy married life.]

This is a unique Motion. It is completely non-political, non-controversial and almost every hon. Member would support it. Will the Leader of the House start discussions through the usual channels with a view to this Motion coming on, probably as the last Order of the Day so that it would not interfere with business, because the Motion would be well received in both Houses, particularly as it refers to a noble Lord who is very much admired in both Houses?

Mr. Carr

I think the noble Lord referred to is an example to us all. I am sure that it is the wish of hon. Members in all parts of the House that we should send a message of congratulation and good wishes for many years' happiness to him, but I hardly think it necessary to pass a formal Motion for that purpose.

Mrs. Castle

Does the Leader of the House remember that last Tuesday he undertook at my request to convey to the Secretary of State for Social Services our desire that he should make a statement on the case of Mr. Eric Camp, the old-age pensioner who is still on hunger strike? Apparently, he is still outside the offices of the DHSS—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have ruled about this. I ruled yesterday that the case is sub judice. I am afraid that I cannot allow the right hon. Lady to pursue the matter.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This gentleman's address changed in the last few days and he is now my constituent. May I seek your guidance? We appreciate that the question of obstruction cannot be discussed in the House, but will you say how we can discuss the condition of this gentleman, who is becoming daily weaker? How we can do that under the rules of order as Members of Parliament?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that the sub judice rule is very wide. I have considered this matter carefully, and I ruled that it cannot be discussed while this gentleman's case is pending. There are circumstances in which that might be prejudicial to him or even dangerous. There are rules and that is where the matter rests.

Mrs. Castle

Does the sub judice rule means that we cannot discuss even the physical condition of this man—[An HON. MEMBER: "Suppose he dies?"]—that we are totally silenced about this man on any aspect of his physical condition, his financial condition and social condition and the policy of the Government in relation to what is represented? Surely that is an astonishing situation.

Mr. Speaker

I have considered the matter and, as one would expect, I have taken advice on it. I do not seek to rest behind that advice, for the responsibility is mine. I am advised that this gentleman's condition must not be discussed in this House.

An Hon. Member


Mrs. Shirley Williams

I apologise for pursuing the matter, Mr. Speaker, but I went to see the gentleman outside the Department's offices. It is evident that he is becoming weaker. Many of us feel that we must be able to raise the question of his survival. Can you guide us as to how we can discuss this question in any way without transgressing the prerogative of the courts?

Mr. Speaker

I will consider the matter. I will see whether there is any way in which I can help.