HC Deb 05 April 1973 vol 854 cc613-20
Mr. Harold Wilson

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

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

The business for the next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 9TH APRIL—Supply (16th allotted day). There will be debates on Mortgage Rates, until about seven o'clock, and afterwards on Disabled Persons. Both will arise on Opposition motions.

Motions on the Cinematograph Films (Collection of Levy) (Amendment No. 3) Regulations, the Motor Vehicles (Speed Limits on Motorways) Regulations and on the (Variation of Speed Limits) Regulations.

TUESDAY 10TH APRIL AND WEDNESDAY 11TH APRIL—Progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY 12TH APRIL—Supply (17th allotted day). There will be a debate on the Air Force, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motions on the Grey Squirrels (Warfarin) Order and on the Farm Capital Grant (Variation) Schemes.

FRIDAY 13TH APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

On Monday, 16th April, the House may be asked to deal with the Northern Ireland (Assembly) Bill.

The House will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, it is intended to propose that the House should rise for the Easter Adjournment on Thursday, 19th April, until Monday, 30th April.

Mr. Wilson

I thank the right hon. Gentleman, particularly for the last sentence of his announcement.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that there was some expectation that next week the House would be asked to debate a motion in the name of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), dealing with certain edicts made in Brussels on a very different basis from decisions previously taken by the House in Britain's national interest?

[That this House rejects the proposals contained in a draft directive of the Commission of the European Communities (No. C 119/1 dated 16th November 1972 in the Official Journal of the EC) namely, the Raising of the Age for a Driving Licence from 17 years to 18 years and other related matters.]

There was widespread interest in having the debate. What is holding it up? Does the Leader of the House hope to be able to bring it on before Easter?

Mr. Prior

I still hope that we can bring it on before Easter. We could consider taking it in the last week before Easter. We have still to receive some translations, and it may be necessary in this case to ask the House to accept our own translation and not have the official translation, because the documents are not yet prepared. I can assure the House that official translations will always be readily available well in advance of a final decision having to be taken on any matter.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend yet in a position to say when we can have the vote on the new parliamentary building?

Mr. Prior

I still hope that it will be before Easter.

Mr. Driberg

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the date he has announced for resumption after the Recess? Does he realise that it is one day before the national day of protest, and that it is very likely that no trains will be running and that probably most of the catering staff of the House will not be coming to work? There will be other inconveniences for hon. Members, so would it not be more sensible for us to return on the Wednesday?

Mr. Prior

I had worked out that it would be greatly to our advantage to come back on the Monday.

Mr. Fell

May I ask my right hon. Friend a question about Standing Committee G on the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill? I have been a little concerned on looking through the names of its members. I realise, of course, how difficult it is for the Chairman of the Committee of Selection to arrange matters adequately and fairly. But it appears from the list of the 30 Members chosen that there are very few who are against certain parts of the Bill, perhaps the parts that were most discussed on Second Reading. It appears that there may be none from the Opposition. There are perhaps a couple on our side of the House, but no more. Will my right hon. Friend consider the matter, because it is a bit worrying?

Mr. Prior

I sympathise with my hon. Friend to the extent that some Members who think that they should be on Standing Committees do not always find a place. [Interruption.] Some people sympathise the other way. The Chairman and the Selection Committee have an extremely difficult job. From time to time there is criticism of them, but it is remarkable how over a period of years there have been so few criticisms. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's words have been heard by the Chairman and members of that Committee.

Mr. Wallace

Will the Leader of the House, in the interests of open govern- ment, of which we have heard so much and seen so little, arrange for an early debate on Motion No. 250, concerning public meetings of rent scrutiny boards?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that meetings of rent scrutiny boards be held in public so that both tenants and landlords can attend and hear what factors are taken into consideration in determining the rents of their dwellings.]

Mr. Prior

I cannot add anything to what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment said on 28th March. I do not think the hon. Gentleman is being very fair about open government, of which I thought there were plenty of examples.

Dame Irene Ward

Now that the Government and the appropriate Secretary of State have received the Booz-Allen Report on shipbuilding and so on, when are we likely not only to see it but to debate it? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that we are very anxious that decisions shall be taken on it while the House is in session and not when it is in recess? Please could my right hon. Friend arrange all that? The first thing is to arrange to have the report circulated, as the Government have had quite a long time to discuss the matter and most of us would like to know about it.

Mr. Prior

I have taken a careful note of what my hon. Friend said. I shall try to inform the House when the report will be available.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Is the Leader of the House aware that last Monday in answering Question No. 16 a Minister began a very undesirable practice by referring to a Written Answer to a Question to the Prime Minister? The matter was raised as a matter of order with Mr. Speaker, but it is not a matter of order. I understand that it is a matter of practice. Is not that a bad practice to follow? Would not it be wise for Ministers to be reminded that it is injurious to the interests of back-bench Members?

Mr. Prior

I think that in the case the hon. Gentleman mentioned my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department answered a Question as it was put to him and in answering a supplementary question gave the substance of the reply to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I have taken note of the hon. Gentleman's point, and I am sure that my hon. Friend has also done so. I think that there was a misunderstanding in this case, and we hope that it will not occur again.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

In view of the wholly controversial nature and purpose of an investigation announced by a sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee yesterday morning to investigate wages paid by the subsidiaries of British firms in South Africa, will there be an early opportunity to debate its confirmation in the House, because its purpose gives rise to great concern?

Mr. Prior

The committee was set up under the usual arrangements at the start of the Session. This is a sub-committee of a committee which is already in existence. Therefore, at this stage, there is no question in front of the House. The arrangements made by Select Committees are, of course, for them.

Mr. Kelley

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot afford time for a discussion next week on Motion No. 266, standing in my name and the names of a number of my hon. Friends, on the commercial relations of the National Coal Board with outside bodies, would he indicate to the Select Committee that he would welcome such an investigation?

[That this House would welcome any investigation which the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries may care to make into the commercial dealings of the National Coal Board with outside bodies.]

Mr. Prior

No, Sir, I have made my position vis-à-vis Select Committees absolutely clear. It is a matter for a Select Committee to make its own decision on what it should investigate, and I think that it would resent it greatly if I tried to influence it in any way.

Captain Orr

On the business that my right hon. Friend hopes to take on Monday week, when does he expect the Bill to be published? Since he is hoping to take the Second Reading of that Bill, does this mean that it will precede the Bill giving effect to Diplock?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. This Bill would come before Diplock. I apologise to the House for the delay in the publication of the Bill. I hope that it will be published in the early part of next week, and certainly before the middle of next week.

Mr. Jay

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Early Day Motion No. 275, protesting against the suppression by the Government of the inspector's report on the West Cross route Ringway? Will he give us an assurance that that report will be published this week?

[That this House calls upon the Secretary of State for the Environment to make public without further delay the report of the inspector following the public inquiry in 1972 into the proposed West Cross route section of Ringway 1 in West London.]

Mr. Prior

The decision on the West Cross route involves consideration of a number of complex matters. My right hon. and learned Friend will announce a decision as soon as he can.

Mr. Walter Johnson

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Early Day Motion No. 262, which deals with the sale of the Rolls-Royce motor company by the receiver? Is he aware that, under the rules of the House, it is not possible to question the Minister on this subject? In those circumstances, would he arrange an early debate on this subject, and certainly before Easter, since otherwise we could find Rolls-Royce sold off to a foreign Power without this House having an opportunity to discuss the matter?

[That this House, whilst recognising that the Receiver in the old Rolls-Royce Company has a specific obligation to get the best possible deal for Rolls-Royce Motors for the benefit of creditors. Rolls-Royce worker shareholders and ordinary shareholders, nevertheless calls upon Her Majesty's Government to give an undertaking that Rolls-Royce Motors will not be sold to a foreign country.]

Mr. Prior

I cannot promise a debate before Easter, as the hon. Gentleman will realise. I have nothing further to add to what my right hon. and learned Friend said on 26th March. But I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said today and I will report it to my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Hastings

With regard to the conduct of British firms abroad, may we have an investigation into the conditions frequently suffered by British employees of British firms working under contract in Soviet Russia?

Mr. Prior

That is another matter which perhaps a sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee might like to consider.

Mr. McBride

May I return to Early Day Motion No. 250, since this matter gains in public importance in view of the inefficiency of the Treasury yesterday in the grant made to the building societies? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that rent scrutiny boards are not elected and that their decisions, arbitrarily arrived at, affect 5½ million people, including 270,000 council house tenants in Wales? Decisions are made by people who are, in effect, in Wales the rubber-stamping nominees of the Secretary of State. Will he not think again and give us open government for a change?

Mr. Prior

I cannot find time for that next week.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

On the business of the sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee, will my right hon. Friend confirm, for the avoidance of doubt, that, although the selection of activities for a committee lies with the committee, the spending of Government money by that committee remains within the control and jurisdiction of the House as a whole?

Mr. Prior

The House has a certain amount of money to devote to Select Committee travelling expenses, and so on, each year. That, of course, must remain within the control of the House, and it is up to the House to decide exactly how that money should be spent.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

With further reference to Motion No. 236, and the question the conduct of British companies in South Africa, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a number of hon. Members on this side of the House and possibly some hon. Members opposite believe that any discussion and examination in committee should be preceded by a debate in this House? Will he arrange that?

[That this House notes with disgust the low wages paid by British firms in South Africa to their African employees and, whilst disapproving any investment which helps to underpin an apartheid regime, believes that the minimum target of directors and shareholders of these companies should be the payment to these workers of wages which will enable them to lead decent and dignified lives.]

Mr. Prior

Not at the moment, Sir.

Mr. James Johnson

Since conflicting information is coming out of Reykavik about the fisheries talks, which we had hoped would be held next week but which now might be after Easter, will the right hon. Gentleman, who, like myself, is interested in this matter, use his influence to get us a statement at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Prior

I will certainly see in what way the House and the hon. Gentleman can be informed of the state of the talks, if there are to be talks, and about when they are to be, and I will let the House know.

Mr. Richard

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the proposed line of the West Cross route goes straight through the middle of my constituency, that a large number of my constituents have written to me, and I have written to a large number of Ministers, asking them what is to happen to my constituents? Is he further aware that, if the Government do not disclose the full reasoning behind whatever decision they take on the West Cross route, it will be a shameful abuse of their prerogatives?

Mr. Prior

I am certain that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to satisfy all the hon. and learned Member's constituents.