HC Deb 16 November 1972 vol 846 cc611-22
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will kindly intimate the likely course of Government business next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)

Yes, Sir.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 20TH NOVEMBER—Remaining stages of the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Bill.

Second Reading of the Pensioners and Family Income Supplement Payments Bill.

Motions on the Mink (Keeping) and the Coypus (Keeping) Orders.

TUESDAY, 21ST NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Border Poll) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Financial Provisions) Bill.

Motions on the Building Regulations (Northern Ireland) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 22ND NOVEMBER—Remaining stages of the Pensioners and Family Income Supplement Payments Bill.

Motions relating to the Immigration Rules for Control on Entry and Control After Entry.

Motion on the European Communities (Designation) Order, and Motions relating to the European Communities Orders.

THURSDAY, 23RD NOVEMBER—Remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Border Poll) Bill.

Motion on the Appropriation No. 3 (Northern Ireland) Order.

FRIDAY, 24TH NOVEMBER—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 27TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Land Compensation Bill.

Mr. Speaker, it may be convenient for me to inform the House that at the beginning of business on Monday, 20th November, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister proposes to move for an Address of Congratulations on the occasion of the Silver Wedding of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.

Mr. Wilson

First, when is the long-awaited statement on the steel industry to be made? Secondly, will the Government find time for an early debate on the Robens Report on Industrial Safety and Health? Thirdly, is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to say when the foreign affairs debate, postponed from the debate on the Address, is to take place? Fourth, when will he find time to debate the Early Day Motion standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and the names of many other right hon. and hon. Members, on the plight of the thalidomide children?

[That this House, recognising the problems which confront children handicapped as a result of their mothers' use of thalidomide, calls upon Distillers (Bio-chemicals) Limited in dealing with these cases, to face up to their moral responsibilities; and urges the Government to propose amending the law for damages to take account of actuarial considerations, and to consider a state insurance scheme to compensate for personal injury.]

Finally, we understand that the Army, Navy and Air Force discipline Acts Continuation Order, 1972, is to be introduced in another place before it comes here. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the assurance given last year, when there was great feeling about such a measure being introduced in another place? It was regarded as a constitutional issue and we were given to understand that such a Bill and Motions in future would start in this House, since they are of constitutional significance. Will he examine this again in order to ensure that the order gets its introduction into this House first on the affirmative resolution procedure?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is well aware of the anxiety in all the steel-making areas of the United Kingdom likely to be affected by the long-term development plans of the British Steel Corporation. He is studying its proposals. The final proposals were received only early in October. The Government's decision will be announced to Parliament as soon as possible. I know that there is very strong feeling in the House on this matter and I will ask my right hon. Friend to make a statement as soon as he can.

The right hon. Gentleman asked when we are to have a foreign affairs debate. The position is very much as I stated it to him last week. We know that we have to have a debate in the near future but it will be difficult to arrange it in the next fortnight.

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of procedure under the Army, Air Force and Navy discipline Acts. As I understand it, when the Acts were before the House, we gave an undertaking that in future such measures would be introduced into this House first, but the orders which are required for years three to five are not necessarily introduced into this House first. Indeed, I believe that in 1967–68 they were introduced into another place before coming here. But in view of what the right hon. Gentleman said, I will, of course, have a fresh look at the situation. I do not, however, think that there is any particular difficulty in it.

As for the Robens Report, I gather that there is to be a debate on the Adjournment this evening. I assume, therefore, that right hon. and hon. Members opposite will provide an early opportunity to debate the issues in their Early Day Motion. That debate, I think, applies particularly to the question of the thalidomide victims. I hope that the Opposition will choose an early Supply Day for that purpose.

Mr. Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman was not quite clear at the end of his reply. I am not sure that the House clearly understood what he tried to say. He was mixing the debate on thalidomide children with the debate on the Robens Report. Will he clarify the position? Surely he is not expecting us to provide time on Supply Days either for the Robens debate, which is clearly Government business, or for the Early Day Motion on thalidomide children? If the Government are going to drag their feet on the Motion about thalidomide children, we can, of course, turn it into a Motion of censure.

Mr. Prior

I do not think that it would be unreasonable to ask the Opposition to provide time for a debate on the thalidomide children. Right hon. and hon. Members have ample opportunities for raising this matter, and I would have thought that after the Adjournment debate has taken place tonight, it would be reasonable for that Motion to be debated by means of a Supply Day.

I am sorry if I mixed up the report of the Robens Committee with the question of a debate on the thalidomide children. In due course there may well have to be a debate on the Robens Report, but we are very pressed at this time of the year, wishing to get on with Second reading debates of Bills. I cannot, I am afraid, promise anything in the immediate future.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Can my right hon. Friend at least give an assurance that the statement on the future of the steel industry will be made before 1st January, which is a very significant date for the future of the industry?

Mr. Prior

I give that undertaking now.

Mr. George Thomas

Has the right hon. Gentleman given further consideration to the question of a debate on Welsh affairs? Is he aware that Wales is entitled to a better deal than she is getting in this House and that it is high time that our problems were discussed on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Prior

Following our exchanges last week, I have given this question of a debate on Wales on the Floor of the House further consideration. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman, however, that I cannot at the moment see any time available for it. I am glad that the Welsh Grand Committee is to have an extended sitting next week to debate the National Health Service in Wales. I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman and all his Welsh colleagues on both sides of the House would like an early debate on the Floor of the House. I will do what I can, but I cannot make a promise at this stage.

Mr. Hayhoe

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Motions to be discussed on the Immigration Rules next Wednesday will be drawn widely enough to enable matters such as the somewhat alarming article in the Daily Express this morning to be adequately ventilated in this House?

Mr. Prior

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend the undertaking for which he asks, namely that this subject will be in order in the debate next Wednesday. I think that many of us felt that the article which appeared in the Daily Express this morning went a good deal further than representing the actual facts on the Immigration Rules. Perhaps I should make it plain that the Immigration Rules and the changes made in the position of Commonwealth citizens relate only to admission in terms of long-term employment. These people will always be welcome here as visitors and students and for working holidays on exactly the same terms as before, and they will retain the same status and privileges in our law.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

What steps does the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary intend to take to end the shamefully inhuman treatment of my constituent, Mrs. Linda Desramault, by seeking speedily to bring to an end the indecent to-ing and fro-ing in other courts and quickly to get a custody decision about baby Caroline?

Mr. Prior

The whole House sympathises with the plight of the hon. Gentleman's constituent, and I will see that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is informed of the hon. Gentleman's views.

Dame Joan Vickers

Will the right hon. Gentleman look into the matter of the procedure in respect of Parliamentary Questions? Does he realise that Wales comes top of the list for Answers on three occasions, then comes Post and Telecommunications with a further three opportunities for Answers, and that we are to have Defence Questions only once before Christmas? Furthermore, will the Prime Minister give any indication when we are likely to have a Navy Minister, and is this the reason why certain orders are being taken in the other place?

Mr. Prior

The subject of Parliamentary Questions is a matter which is constantly being discussed in this Chamber, and whatever changes are made will always upset somebody. On the question of the appointment of a Navy Minister, this is a matter for my right hon. Friend and I will inform him of my hon. Friend's views.

Mr. Strauss

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what action he intends to take to implement the decision of the Privileges Committee, reported to the House on 20th June, concerning the style and status of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Lord Lambton), a recommendation which was unanimously agreed?

Mr. Prior

I have been in my present job for about a fortnight, and I should like a little more time before giving the right hon. Gentleman an answer to his question.

Mr. Kilfedder

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early Day Motion No. 47 which calls on the Government to urge the Belfast shipyard, which is heavily financed by taxpayers' money, to purchase a computer from ICL which is dependent on Government support? Since the shipyard will shortly be making a public announcement about the matter, will be urgently consider providing time to debate this subject—a matter which is not only important to ICL but equally important to a factory in my constituency?

[This House calls upon the Government to urge Harland and Wolff, Belfast, which has already received £22 million of state aid and is to receive up to £49 millions more, to purchase a computer manufactured by International Computers Limited, in which the Government has invested the taxpayers' money and which would provide work for International Engineering Limited, Belfast, in which the Government has a majority shareholding.]

Mr. Prior

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree in all fairness that we are devoting a great deal of time in the next week to Northern Irish affairs, and I would not necessarily think that the subject he has mentioned would be out of order in tomorrow's debate. I would add that it is Government policy to encourage the purchase of British computers in the public sector.

Mr. Loughlin

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Early Day Motion No. 19, which stands in my name and in the names of many hon. Members, on the need for psychiatric treatment rather than a prison sentence for women who have been found guilty of baby-snatching? Will he recognise that there have already been two tragic cases, one involving Pauline Jones and the other Jacqueline Paddon? Since there is another case pending, will the right hon. Gentleman try to let the House have a debate on this subject?

[That this House, conscious that' baby-snatching ' normally arises from mental maladjustment of the person concerned, urges upon the Home Secretary the need to submit proposals for legislation to ensure that those charged and proven guilty of such an offence shall not be subject to a prison sentence but shall be detained for psychiatric treatment.]

Mr. Prior

I regret that at the moment I cannot find any time for a debate on this matter, but it would seem to be a useful subject for a Private Member's Motion.

Mr. Marten

May we have an assurance that before the Minister for Transport Industries goes to Brussels to continue his negotiations about heavy lorries this House will have a debate on this subject in Government time so that the Minister will be able to express his view to the House? May I remind my right hon. Friend that we were given assurances by the Government that we would be able to debate these matters when they were in draft and before they were completed by the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Prior

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend said yesterday.

Mrs. Renée Short

Did the right hon. Gentleman see the reply given to me last Monday by the Secretary of State for Social Services in answer to a Question asking when the departmental reply to the report of the Expenditure Committee on Private Practice was likely to be received? Is he aware that this report has been before the House for almost eight months and that it is a scandal that we have not been given a reply by the Government? Will he tell his right hon. Friend to get on with it and to see that the House has a reply next week?

Mr. Prior

I will, of course, inform my right hon. Friend of the hon. Lady's views.

Mr. Adam Butler

In view of the worldwide concern about possible inadequacies in fuel supply in the 1980s, will my right hon. Friend give time for an early debate on energy, preferably one in which the Government can put forward their proposals?

Mr. Prior

This is obviously a very important subject which we would wish to find time to debate in the House, but I cannot promise an early debate since we are faced with a log-jam of business over the next few weeks.

Mr. Concannon

When are we to have the oft-promised and oft-postponed coal mines Bill before the House? I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that all those from the highest boardroom level to the lowest apprentice in the industry feel that there has been bad faith by the Government in handling these matters.

Mr. Prior

I assure the hon. Gentleman that a Bill will be introduced quite soon. I can give him the further assurance that there is no question of bad faith. We know that a Bill must be introduced, and it will be, but we are not quite ready for it yet.

Mr. Raison

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a two-day debate on the next stage of the counter-inflation policy before the Government come forward with their proposals?

Mr. Prior

This is a matter of great concern to the House and I should like to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion further. The idea of a two-day debate on anything at the moment fills me with a certain amount of despondency.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a strong feeling among Scottish Labour Members that the next business of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs should be North Sea oil? Will he give some consideration to this matter? Secondly, reverting to the subject of thalidomide, will he not look at this matter again? Since the matter is of interest to Members in all parts of the House, it is surely not a matter whether a debate should be in Government time or in Opposition time but that it should be in House of Commons' time.

Mr. Prior

I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that a Motion very similar in character on this subject has been tabled by the Leader of the Opposition, and therefore I did not regard it as unreasonable to suggest that they might be prepared to give time for a debate of this nature. I recognise that there is another Motion in the name of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and the Government have taken note of that point. I hope that we shall be able to have a debate before very long.

Sir Gilbert Longden

Reverting to the last question and an earlier one, if the Government are contemplating interfering with judicial processes will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there are objects much more worthy of our consideration than the Desramault imbroglio, namely, the thalidomide children?

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend has shown clearly how difficult these matters can be.

I noted what the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) said about the Select Committee. A report is due shortly on the subject which he mentioned, and I should like to give attention to that before getting in touch with the hon. Gentleman further.

Mr. Edward Short

Do I understand the Leader of the House to say that the Government are refusing to give time for a debate on an official Motion put down by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? If he is saying that, it is something new, and it provides a further example of the contempt with which that Government are treating the House.

Mr. Prior

I have said nothing of the sort. I said that there were two Motions on this subject on the Order Paper which were very similar in character, one in the names of hon. Members on both sides of the House and the other in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and some of his right hon. Friends. That being so, it seemed to me not unreasonable that, as the Opposition had tabled the Motion, they should use some of their own time during which to discuss it. From my experience of the House, I do not think that there is anything unusual in that suggestion.

Mr. Grylls

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the answer which he gave last week about setting up a Select Committee on Overseas Aid? Is he aware that there would be no difficulty in manning this Committee from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides who are deeply interested in the subject? Is he also aware that there are now 192 signatures to Early Day Motion No. 1?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to reconsider its view as set out in its Green Paper on Select Committees of the House of Commons published in October, 1970, and to recommend to the House that a Select Committee on Overseas Development be established, whose functions would include the review and appraisal of British performance in relation to the International Development Strategy for the Second United Nations Development Decade.]

Mr. Prior

I am aware of the strong feelings on this issue which exist on both sides of the House. I am equally aware that some of my hon. Friends considered that my reply last week was unsympathetic. Although I do not wish to appear unsympathetic, I can add nothing to what I said at that time, except that I am reconsidering the matter.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Does the Leader of the House appreciate that many of us on this side, and possibly many hon. Members opposite also, are disappointed at the cavalier attitude that he has adopted to the possibility of a debate on Welsh affairs, in view of the fact that there are deep and complex problems facing Wales which are worthy of the attention of the House? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that such intransigence ill-becomes a new incumbent?

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair. He must know of the immense demands that are currently being made for time, not only by the Government but by others. The Government recognise that there should be a debate on Wales at the earliest possible opportunity. I said only that time cannot be found for such a debate at present.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I had always understood that it was the tradition of the House that hon. Members were allowed to ask only one business question. As the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) asked two questions, I submit that my hon. Friends and I should be granted extra questions.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order. It is a matter for the discretion of the Chair.