HC Deb 19 October 1972 vol 843 cc450-7
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House if he will state the business for next week?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department, 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, 23RD OCTOBER, TUESDAY, 24TH OCTOBER, and WEDNESDAY, 25TH OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Local Government Bill.

At the end on MONDAY, a Division, it required, on the National Health Service (Family Planning) Amendment Bill.

Mr. Speaker, subject to progress of business, the House will Prorogue on Thursday, 26th October.

As already announced, the new Session will be opened on Tuesday, 31st October.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied, in view of the very large number of Amendments made in another place to the Local Government Bill, some of which at first sight seem highly reasonable, others extraordinary, that there will be enough time for the House to debate them adequately? I ask because the Bill will have a very profound effect on local government for many years to come.

Secondly, since there has been some expectation, I think on the part of the Government as well as of the Opposition, that we might have further debates in lieu of Supply days owed to us, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm, since we have agreed to the programme for next week because of the Local Government Bill problem, that the Government, in a sense on a gentlemen's agreement basis, owe the Opposition two and a half days' Supply time, and that it will now be taken in the new Session in lieu of days we gave up to help the Government when they were in great difficulties with certain aspects of their business?

Mr. Carr

I can certainly confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that we admit that this is a debt of honour of two and a half days to be carried on to the new Session. We are grateful for the help he gave to help the business of the House, I think that three whole days ought to be adequate for dealing with the Lords Amendments. There are large numbers of them, but, as so often happens in these matters, I think the number of groups is not quite as formidable as the gross number of Amendments may make them appear. I agree that it is heavy business, but I think three whole days will be adequate.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Further to that point. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how many Amendments there are coming? I hear the number is over 200. Some of them raise very big general principles on local government matters. Others refer to individual localities. It is not a question of grouping them for the convenience of the House. We are not talking about groups; we are talking about human beings here; and it is very important that the House takes the right decisions.

Mr. Carr

I cannot deny the sort of estimate of quantity which the right hon. Gentleman has given. It is, I am afraid, measured in hundreds. When he talks about groupings I certainly did not mean groupings in that sense. What I mean is that with most of the major Amendments there is, in many cases, a large number of consequential Amendments. This is what produces the very large number of Amendments. I mean grouping only in that sense. There is certainly a fair number of very important debates which the House will have to have. We do, however, believe that three full days should provide adequate time.

Sir Robin Turton

As the programme which my right hon. Friend has announced does not provide any opportunity for discussing the changes in procedure recommended by the Select Committee on Procedure and Joint Select Committee on Delegated Legislation nor, indeed, the even more urgent matter of the parliamentary consequences of entry into the European Communities, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that very early in the new Session the House will be able to debate these very important matters?

Mr. Carr

I am aware that this is outstanding business. There are a number of matters on which the Government have told the House their reactions to the Procedure Committee's recommendations. There is a number of other matters on which the Government have first got to express their view. When we have done so, certainly there would be need for debate.

Mr. Dalyell

May I raise a matter of principle with, I think, important consequences for Members on both sides? Is the Leader of the House aware that the Docksey Committee's Report, which deals with the future of the National Research Development Corporation, a Government Report, has been made available, rightly or wrongly, to Members of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, but has been denied to the rest of us? It seems that there is, perhaps, an issue here as to whether some Members ought to get a report which is denied to others, and an issue whether there are perhaps first-class and second-class Members of the House.

Mr. Carr

These matters are difficult, My recollection of my own past experience as a Member of Select Committees is that on many occasions a Member, as a Member of a Select Committee, gets information in advance of the whole House. In due course the Select Committee reports. There is no promise or undertaking to publish this report in the first place. I think it is reasonable that the Select Committee should have a chance to look at it. When it has reported we will consider the matter.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Could the right hon. Gentleman be in a position to tell the House when the committee to deal with legislation in regard to Northern Ireland will be set up? Is he aware that very important drafts of Orders will be before the House this evening and that those drafts amend many Acts of the Northern Ireland Parliament and completely do away with many other Acts? Does he not think, when we have come back at the end of this Session that time should have been given next week to discuss the very serious position which is now arising in Northern Ireland where we have cases of terrible intimidation on both sides of the religious fence, where Protestants are being burned out of their homes and where Roman Catholics are being burned out of their homes? Is he aware that in my own constituency there have been words and threats by the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin), who is, unfortunately, not in the House, and who said they will burn the hay sheds and poison cattle? Is my right hon. Friend aware that this has now taken place in my own constituency, five hay sheds burned and some heads of cattle poisoned in the last few weeks?

Mr. Carr

On the first point, I would certainly hope that the Government will come forward early in the new Session with their proposals for the Northern Ireland Committee to deal with legislation such as I mentioned back in the summer and which we certainly regard as an important matter. I of course do see the hon. Gentleman's point, that with such serious events as are now going on in Northern Ireland there is a very natural and almost continuous desire for debates. It is difficult to find sufficient time for them. There has been a full exchange of views in response to the statement by my right hon. Friend this week. Imme- diately we come back for the new Session we will launch forth into several days' debate on the Queen's Speech, and that is the traditional opportunity for raising all sorts of matters of first importance.

Mr. C. Pannell

Can I bring the Leader of the House back to the Local Government Bill and the fact that we have got three days to consider the Lords Amendments? We all know that in theory the Government will listen to the arguments, but they must by this time, in view of the legislative programme, have made up their mind about them, and I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman can give us prior indication of the number of those Amendments the Government propose to accept.

Mr. Carr

I think we had better let another place finish its consideration before we do crystal gazing of that kind.

Dame Irene Ward

Is my right hon. Friend aware that an urgent debate is necessary on the future of shipbuilding and shipping in general? Will he bear in mind that I am not at all happy about the delays which have occurred as a result of the arguments which appear to have been taking place within the Government? Is he further aware that Swan Hunter has just lost an order amounting to £20 million, which is a large sum of money? I want to be able to get at the Government so that I may know what they are up to.

Mr. Carr

My hon. Friend is always wanting to get at the Government, indeed at all Governments. Obviously there is no chance of a debate on this topic next week, but I will convey my hon. Friend's wishes to my right hon. Friends. I hope she will not forget that some of the policies pursued by the Government in the last six months are giving considerable help to the shipbuilding industry.

Mr. Michael Foot

Returning to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), will the right hon. Gentleman have in mind that some of us feel a new principle may be involved in regard to the circulation of documents to a Select Committee? We appreciate that confidential documents are in a different category, but this matter relates to a Government report, the circulation of which is another matter. This raises the whole question of the rights of Members of a Select Committee as compared with the rights of other Members of the House. Will he undertake to make a statement to the House on this matter early next week?

Mr. Carr

I will certainly look into the matter seriously. I did not mean in any way to brush aside what could be an important matter. I will not commit myself to the time at which I might make a statement, but will look carefully at the question.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that what has been circulated to the Select Committee on Science and Technology is not a totally unexpurgated edition of the report concerned? On the question of Select Committee reports in general, I should like to support in every way the plea made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton) about the backlog of Select Committee reports and the Government White Papers on them, which are overdue. This is beginning to put in jeopardy the whole system of Select Committees. Will he give an assurance that in the coming Session the Government will make a major effort to keep up to date with these matters?

Mr. Carr

I take serious note of what my hon. Friend said, and I will convey his remarks to those of my colleagues who are involved. As for the Select Committee on Science and Technology, I am aware of the desire for a debate and that we should try to produce replies to the four reports before that debate takes place. I shall seek to urge that along.

Mr. Faulds

In view of the moral victory last night by hon. Members on both sides of the House opposed to the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Bill and the size of the Government's derisory numerical majority, will the right hon. Gentleman approach the Prime Minister on his return from Paris to ask him to drop this dreary Measure, and indeed to drop the Minister concerned as well?

Mr. Carr

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that pleasure.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

In view of changing economic circumstances and the fact that the subject of VAT has never been fully debated on the Floor of the House, and also bearing in mind the rising problems of industrialists who have had no clear guidance on the matter, does my right hon. Friend not think that we should now have a full day's debate on this tax?

Mr. Carr

Obviously there is not time for such a debate next week, and at the moment I cannot make any commitment about the new Session; but I will think about the matter.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

What plans have the Government for an early debate on the Uganda Asians?

Mr. Carr

I am afraid I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman—not next week. We are soon to begin a new Session and must see how we go. I personally believe that it would be a good thing to debate the matter, if we can find time.

Mr. Fell

My right hon. Friend was kind enough to send me advance information in a letter that he had decided to give time to the further consideration of the National Health Service (Family Planning) Amendment Bill. Where do back benchers stand in this matter? [Interruption.] This is a matter of the greatest seriousness if the interests of back benchers on all sides of the House are to be safeguarded. The fact is that, despite the earlier proceedings on this topic and the fact that the matter went to the Committee on Procedure—whose report has not had a chance to be discussed—the matter has been left in the situation that the Government will do what they think fit— [Interruption.] What happened on that Friday back in the summer was completely within the rules of order. What assurance can we be given that in future the Government will not decide to take retrospective action to allow decisions of the House taken many months ago to be reversed by leave of the Government?

Mr. Carr

First of all I accept my responsibility as Leader of the House, above all to take account of the interests of back benchers, but I do my best to listen to views. I was left in no doubt by a large number of hon. Members, not by any means all those who were fervent supporters of the Bill, that it was felt that a procedural quirk had prevented a final decision on the Bill. We referred the matter to the Committee on Procedure—which is a committee of the House, not a Government body—and having considered that report and all the representations which I received from large numbers of back benchers, I decided that it was right to adopt the suggestion of that Committee.

Mr. Speaker

May I ask for the help of the House? We have an important debate before us and I have the names of 40 hon. Members who want to take part in it. May we conclude this part of our proceedings as quickly as possible?

Mr. Stratton Mills

In the blackest week yet in Northern Ireland, could my right hon. Friend give an assurance that at least one day of the debates on the Queen's Speech will be specially earmarked for Northern Ireland? Since it is clear—I say this without recriminations—that direct rule has failed, will he assure us that the debate is wide enough to take in a major reassessment of policy to prevent other problems?

Mr. Carr

My hon. Friend will not expect me to agree with the concluding part of his remarks. On the first part, I will carefully consider the possibility of allocating one day of the debate on the Address to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Lawson

Reverting to the question of giving prior information to Select Committees, may I ask the Minister to bear in mind that many Members on both sides of the House might regard it as a good thing that Select Committees engaged in examining matters should have access to information and reports before they have been published. Certainly the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs would have gained great advantage if it had had access to the report on afforestation. Therefore, will he not become too intimidated by the kind of remarks we heard a little earlier?

Mr. Carr

An issue has been raised which needs further thought, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall not be intimidated by either side.