HC Deb 23 November 1972 vol 846 cc1518-28
Mr. Speaker

Business question, Mr. Harold Wilson.

Hon. Members

Shame. Question No. 6.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have no option in this matter: the time is half-past three.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Well, Sir, we sometimes go on with Questions a bit beyond that. May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business for next week?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We do not go on with a new Question beyond 3.30 p.m.

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, 27TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Land Compensation Bill and of the Housing (Amendment) Bill.

TUESDAY, 28TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Social Security Bill.

Motion on the Post-War Credit (Income Tax) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY, 29TH NOVEMBER—Supply (1st allotted day) when the House will be asked to agree the Civil Vote on Account and the Winter Supplementary Estimates.

Debate on Opposition Motions on Thalidomide children, until about seven o'clock, and thereafter on axle weights and size of lorries.

Motions on the Legal Aid Regulations.

THURSDAY, 30TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Sea Fish Industry Bill.

Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order.

FRIDAY, 1ST DECEMBER—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 4TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.

Mr. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the thalidomide debate on Wednesday will not be a motion of censure on the Government but a call, which we hope they can accept, for action in this matter, which all parties in the House will find acceptable? Second, may I ask him about the foreign affairs debate? He will recall that this did not take place, as is customary, in the debate on the Address. We took the view that, in the absence of the Foreign Secretary, it should be deferred. It now seems to be being deferred much too long. It is a long time since the House debated these matters. When does he intend to provide the debate on foreign affairs in Government time which was promised to us?

Third, will he consider the question of statutory instruments? In the last Session, when there was gross overloading of the parliamentary timetable, many statutory instruments were never reached and were out of time before we had a chance of debating them. In the present situation, even in this new Session—and there is no excuse now—we are getting into this position again. Will the right hon. Gentleman have talks through the usual channels and, if necessary, on a wider basis in the House, possibly by a Select Committee if that is necessary, to make sure that the undoubted rights of the House over statutory instruments are accorded to the House as a whole?

Finally, with regard to the events of last night—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—will he inform the House of the Government's intentions in this matter? Will he tell us of any precedent in the lifetime of any of us of a defeat of the Government on a major confrontation on a Government three-line whip, caused by a revolt of their own Members, which has not led to the necessary conclusions being drawn by the Prime Minister? [An HON. MEMBER: "The Cheese Order in 1951."] The Cheese Order of 9th April, 1951 was a very small statutory order which was reversed the next day. It was not a major constitutional issue affecting the rights of millions of Commonwealth citizens. "Cheese off" that one. Could I ask—

Mrs. Renée Short

Tell him to resign. Harold.

Mr. Wilson

He would have done— he should not need me to tell him—if he had any sense of honour. But he will not.

What are the Government's intentions? The Press have been told by the Government this morning that they intend to introduce the same orders again. Will he say whether this is the case?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said on the first subject down for debate on Wednesday, the thalidomide debate, in which, I gather, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) may take part. I think that the whole House noted what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I hope that we shall have a constructive debate.

I have had informal talks with one or two right hon. Gentlemen opposite about the foreign affairs matter. We obviously must have this debate in the near future —not next week nor, I think, the week after; but I should like to have discussions through the usual channels about whether it could be the week after that or left to the last week before Christmas. Of course, we shall try to meet the wishes of the House in that respect.

On statutory instruments, I recognise what the right hon. Gentleman said. We tried yesterday to give more time for discussion of statutory instruments. There is the Brooke Committee which has been looking at this matter. I hope to bring proposals before the House in the near future which will perhaps give another opportunity for further discussion of statutory instruments, which obviously is required by hon. Members in all parts of the House.

As for the last point, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, except that the rules which the House considered were based on policies which Parliament had already approved in enacting the Immigration Act, 1971 and the European Communities Act, 1972.

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the spirit in which he answered my first three questions. On statutory instruments, would he take the point that I was not concerned principally with the report of the Brooke Committee: I am concerned that the House should have adequate time, within the normal rules for debating statutory instruments, whether on affirmative or negative resolution, when they are still relevant and "hot", and not, as is the case with some negative resolutions, out of time? I am sure that he will do his best with that.

On the last point, the Prime Minister's words last night, in a very heated situation in the House, have been variously interpreted. Is the right hon. Gentleman telling the House that the same orders will be placed before the House again?

Mr. Prior

What I am saying is what my right hon. Friend said, that the Government are reviewing the content of those rules in the light of the position and the views expressed in the debate, and will bring amended rules before the House in due course—[Interruption.] We cannot lay the same rules again, because we should be out of order in doing so. They must be amended rules: I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance.

Mr. Edward Taylor

In view of the hardship and disruption caused today by the railway strike, which appears to be pointless, destructive and endangering the jobs of men on the railways and in railway workshops, and in view of the serious financial position of the railways, will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the future of the railways?

Mr. Prior

I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate, but I must tell him that I agree very much with his sentiments—

Mr. Heffer

Why? What do you know about it?

Mr. Prior

I know that the public have been grievously inconvenienced by this, and I think it is a great shame.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on food prices, so that the House can hold a post-mortem on his record as the Minister of Food?

Mr. Prior

I am not certain whether the right hon. Gentleman was here, but we had a debate on that subject during the debate on the Queen's Speech.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Will the Government, in addition to doing their best to reformulate the immigration rules in a more acceptable form, within the limit of the constraints imposed upon them, also give urgent consideration to a review of our whole law of citizenship, which is a dog's breakfast?

Mr. Prior

I have noted my right hon. and learned Friend's views. The Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary made comments on this last night, and I will pass on my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks to them.

Mr. Concannon

Is the Leader of the House aware that the non-presentation of a coal mines Bill will lead to a serious dilemma in the industry? As, in my understanding, such legislation must be completed in the House by the end of March, is he aware that any delay in presentation will create considerable difficulties for hon. Members who wish to participate in the debates?

Mr. Prior

I know the hon. Gentleman's interest in this subject. I can only repeat what I told him last week, and confirm the Government's intention not only to introduce a Bill, but to do so as early as possible.

Mr. Sydney Chapman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his two immediate predecessors had hoped to debate and reach a decision on the new parliamentary building before the end of last Session? I appreciate the importance of the legislative programme next week, but could my right hon. Friend be a little more forthcoming in promising a debate before the Christmas Recess?

Mr. Prior

I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but it will be extremely difficult to fit in a debate before Christmas, in view of the important topics for debate already before the House.

Mr. David Steel

Reverting to the events of last night, is the Leader of the House aware that the Opposition are very keen that there should be a General Election? Would the right hon. Gentleman do his best at least to assist a move in that direction by ensuring that the writ for Lincoln is moved?

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that that is not a question for me.

Mr. Loveridge

Does my right hon. Friend recall the Third Report of the Select Committee on Procedure? Would he now undertake to appoint a Committee to consider the effect on the procedures of the House of business emanating from the European Commission or from the Council of Ministers— or have the wriggles of right hon. and hon. Members opposite led to further deferment?

Mr. Prior

While I think that it is too early to reach a decision on that issue, it is desirable that progress should be made. I hope, therefore, that the Opposition will shortly make known their intentions in this respect.

Dr. Summerskill

Can the Leader of the House say when he expects the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill to arrive in the House? How can he justify the proceedings on a major Bill, involving the total reorganisation of the health service, a service which spends over £2,000 million of public money and containing highly controversial proposals, being initiated in another place?

Mr. Prior

As the hon. Lady knows, there are two important Bills—the Social Security Bill and the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill—for the Department of Health and Social Security this Session. The Social Security Bill will receive its Second Reading next week and go straight into Committee. We thought that it would be for the convenience of the House that Ministers should be able to sit on that Committee in strength as well as being in attendance on the health service Bill when it was before the House. That being so, it would be wrong that two major Bills involving the same Department should run concurrently in the House. Nevertheless, I hope that the health service Bill will come before this House in ample time for full debate.

Mr. Biffen

Would my right hon. Friend concede the desirability of the Minister of Agriculture coming to the House next week and making a statement on the important decisions taken on the Government's behalf at a meeting of the Common Market Council of Ministers on Tuesday of this week. Since the Minister of Agriculture will not be top for Questions until 19th December, and the House would like to know more about those decisions, and, moreover, the National Farmers' Union felt compelled to issue a statement that the agreements concluded had caused it acute concern?

Mr. Prior

I shall consider my hon. Friend's suggestion together with my right hon. Friend, who, I know, will be only too ready to give all information possible.

Mr. Benn

Would the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that he will not ask Parliament to debate the Concorde Bill until a White Paper has been published? The Bill today, which provides for £225 million for Concorde, ought not to be debated unless the Government are prepared to put all the papers before the House.

Mr. Prior

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. I think that he knows perfectly well that we need to obtain the extra money, which has to be voted through the Bill, and I hope that there will not be a great delay. It is a project that has gone forward under more than one Government. It is a great national project to which we are committed.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

When does my right hon. Friend expect to make a statement about the Government's intentions regarding a Select Committee on Overseas Development, as called for by 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 must tell my hon. Friend that I have nothing to add to the statements I have made in the last two weeks. I am still considering the matter.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

In view of the large numbers of Scottish hon. Members who want to take part in the Scottish Local Government Bill debate on Monday week, would the Leader of the House consider giving us an extra hour for that debate? Would he also do his best to make sure that we do not have one, two, or even three statements by Ministers at the beginning of the debate, thus robbing us of half an hour or an hour at the outset?

Mr. Prior

I shall do everything I can to see that statements are avoided on the day on which that Bill is presented to the House. It is a large Bill of considerable importance to Scotland, and provided I have the agreement of hon. Members generally, I am prepared to consider an extra hour.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Would the Leader of the House consider the desirability of giving time to debate the need to ease the granting of IDCs to areas expanding under the new towns procedure, for example, Peterborough, where local management is good and energetic but could be frustrated because of the way in which IDCs are being held back by the Department?

Mr. Prior

I cannot promise a debate on that subject in the near future, but I will see that my hon. Friend's views are conveyed to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Heffer

Would the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the answer he gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) about a debate on the future of railways, especially in view of his statement in which he appeared to state that the rail-waymen were wrong, giving no consideration to their point of view?

At the same time, as the right hon. Gentleman has shown great interest in industrial relations matters, would he arrange for an early debate on safety in the building industry? There are 2,000 workers engaged in bridge building and five are killed in that work every year. Is not that a serious and important matter that the House should debate at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Prior

It is an important matter and the House should find time to debate it. It would be difficult to arrange such a debate in Government time. It may be a subject that could be raised on a Private Member's motion.

It is the public who should be considered in the railway dispute, and I do not think that they are being considered by the railwaymen in the action that they have taken.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Bearing in mind that there will apparently be no adequate opportunity to discuss the winter Supplementary Estimates on Wednesday, would my right hon. Friend confirm that he will conform with precedent in having a two-day debate on public expenditure before Christmas?

Mr. Prior

We are committed to a two-day debate. I shall check to see whether it is due to take place before Christmas. I have a feeling that it has to come fairly soon. As my hon. Friend knows, we have to pave the way for a Consolidated Fund Bill, which requires Royal Assent by 7th December, and that Bill would have to come before the House the week after next week.

Mr. Dalyell

From his previous incarnation, the Leader of the House will know that his hon. Friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been saying at monthly intervals since February that widely needed legislation concerning pollution in the North Sea will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time permits. When is parliamentary time likely to permit the matter to be dealt with?

Mr. Prior

Not in the near future. However, it is important legislation and the whole House would wish it to go through. Perhaps we could consider a Second Reading Committee, in which case it might be possible.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

In view of the talks now taking place in Helsinki, is it not time to debate defence in the context of Western Europe? May we have time for that before Christmas?

Mr. Prior

I have already promised the House today that we must have a foreign affairs debate in the period before Christmas. I cannot go further than that in promising a debate on Western European defence.

Mr. Ross

Monday's business includes the Land Compensation Bill, which affects the law of England, Wales and Scotland. It is not always easy to deal with them all together. This is a dog's breakfast. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is clause after clause of Scots application tagged on at the end, and then the draftsmen gave up? We have a schedule consisting of 12 clauses translated into Scottish legal form. Would he take the example of a former distinguished Leader of the House, extract the schedule, and send it to the Scottish Committee for its Committee stage?

Mr. Prior

I have a feeling that that would be an unlikely thing for me to do, but I shall consider it. Far from its being a dog's breakfast, it is a good Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman ought to be pleased that we are introducing it.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am happy that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) succeeded in asking two business questions today. May those of us who did not get one question today be permitted to have two next week?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order, but it is an observation that will be borne in mind.