HC Deb 12 April 1973 vol 854 cc1506-16
Mr. Harold Wilson

While congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, on the fact that the content of answers is not a matter for you, may I, by Private Notice, put a question to the Leader of the House— namely, 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 next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 16TH APRIL—The House will be asked to deal with the Northern Ireland Assembly Bill.

TUESDAY, 17TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill.

Motions on the Northern Ireland Orders on Recreation and Youth Service, Oaths and Declarations and Superannuation.

WEDNESDAY, 18TH APRIL—Consideration of the First Report from the Select Committee on European Community Secondary Legislation.

Remaining stages of the Overseas Pensions Bill [Lords].

Motions on the Cereals (Guarantee Payments) Orders, the Eggs (Protection of Guarantees) Order and the Horticulture (Increase in Aggregate Amount of Grants) Order.

THURSDAY, 19TH APRIL—It will be proposed that the House meets at 11 a.m., takes Questions until 12 noon, and adjourns at 5 p.m. until Monday, 30th April.

Mr. Wilson

I do not think I heard the right hon. Gentleman give us the date for the motion for the Easter Adjournment which in the past we have usually been given. He knows our anxiety because of certain recent events. When does he expect or hope to have the debate on the Adjournment motion?

Secondly, may I ask whether he recalls what he said a week ago about Motion No. 243, in the names of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and others?

[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.]

Last week he said that he hoped to have the debate in the week before Easter. I agree that there was no firm commitment. Will he tell us what are the prospects of its being debated, whether it can be squeezed in next week, or whether he expects to have the debate soon after Easter?

Thirdly, may I ask when there will be a debate on the recent Select Committee report on steel?

Finally, in view of the references by the Prime Minister this afternoon to the responsibility of the Leader of the House concerning discussions of Members' interests and related questions, may I ask how he sees them going and when he expects to be able to make a statement? Is he aware, for example, of proposals which have been worked out on this side of the House as regards both Members' interests and related questions and the proposal which has been widely canvassed that any such register should apply to those who report our proceedings?

Mr. Prior

On the last point, I am not aware of the views of the Opposition at the moment, but I am expecting to have further consultations in due course.

Regarding a debate on steel following the Select Committee's report, I think that it would be better to await the Government's reply before having a debate on that matter.

On the problem of Motion No. 243 and the time to debate it, it is true that it will be some months at least before any decision is taken on the issue. Since last Thursday it has become clear, because of the time to be taken on Northern Ireland affairs, that a choice would have to be made among those issues which the House was hoping to discuss. It seemed to me that the Select Committee's Report had the strongest claim.

It is not usual to announce on the business for the coming week on what day we shall have the Adjournment motion debate. However, it is not my intention that it should be on the last day.

Mr. Wilson

May I press the right hon. Gentleman a little further regarding Motion No. 243 as he seems to have changed his position on it? Last week we all understood, when he said he hoped that it would be before Easter, that he would try to fit it in, although he made the point, perfectly fairly, that we had not adequate translations. That seemed to be the reason for leaving it until next week. Now he is saying that because of Northern Ireland and other matters, which presumably he knew about last Thursday, it may be deferred for some months. Does he recognise that we are not pressing him to have a debate before Easter, but that we shall certainly press him if he has totally changed his mind compared with what he said last week?

Mr. Prior

This issue will need to be debated. My right hon. Friend hopes to make his comments on these proposals very soon. I think that it would be helpful to the House to hear his comments before having the debate.

Sir F. Bennett

On 20th March, in response to a Question by myself about when we could expect the review of the law on picketing to be announced, the Under-Secretary of State said that his right hon. Friend very much hopes to make a statement in the next two weeks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 20th March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 228.] Rather over three weeks have now expired. If we do not get a statement next week it will be at least six weeks, which is three times the figure that I was given. May I ask the Leader of the House to give me some indication when this fond hope will be realised?

Mr. Prior

I will convey my hon. Friend's remarks to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I know that he is hoping to be in a position to make a statement shortly.

Mr. Harold Walker

May I press the Leader of the House yet again about an early debate on the Robens Report. It is now nine months since that committee reported on the important question of industrial health and safety, since when the Government have been silent. May we have some indication of an early debate on that matter?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend hopes to make a statement within the next few weeks outlining the Government's intentions. I think that it would be better to have that statement before having a debate. I understand that the House will want to debate the matter in this Session.

Mr. Burden

May I call my right hon. Friend's attention to Motion No. 13 which calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation to ensure that the present export of animals for slaughter is replaced by a carcase-only trade?

[That this House, realising the suffering that can be inflicted upon cattle, sheep and other animals exported alive for slaughter overseas, and in view of the fact that experience has shown the impossibility of enforcing the safeguards implicit in the Balfour Assurances, even in countries that have undertaken to observe them, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation to ensure that the present export of such live animals is replaced by a carcase-only trade, thus ensuring that they will be slaughtered under the humane conditions prevailing in British abattoirs, and that benefits accrue to the British economy from the processing of the animal by-products.]

May I remind my right hon. Friend that no fewer than 163 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have signed that motion and that in all 270 right hon. and hon. Members of this honourable House have signed that and comparable motions? May I ask whether he will give an undertaking that legislation will be introduced and that, if not, time will be found for a debate in the near future?

Mr. Prior

I cannot give any indication that time can be found either for legislation or for a debate on this subject. I recognise its importance. I believe that the export of meat in carcase form is greatly to be desired, and I think that this will better be accomplished by voluntary means than by taking legislative action.

Mr. C. Pannell

Does the Leader of the House recall that a few weeks ago the Minister for Housing and Construction gave the House a full statement upon what I call the logistics of the new parliamentary building? Have the Government crystallised their minds on that point? May we expect an early debate? I had expected that we would have one before Easter.

Mr. Prior

I, too, had hoped that we would have an early debate on this matter, but not all the material could be made available to the House in time for a debate next week. I will keep in mind the desirability of the House reaching an early decision, but to enable it to do so I think that it is important for the House to have all the evidence available to it.

Dame Irene Ward

Will the leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to be kind enough next week to let the House know—he has already let me know and has probably told some other Members, too—how long it will be before he is able to announce a decision on the Kielder Reservoir project? The Secretary of State for the Environment told me that the decision would be announced within a very short time, and though he would not set a time he said that it might be as quick as a month. Since the whole of the North of England is urgently awaiting this decision, it would be helpful—and, if he takes the right decision, would enable many people to have a happy Easter—if he would make the statement next week so that we shall all know where we are.

Mr. Prior

I came fully prepared to answer a question which my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) might raise on the Booz-Allen Report but not a question about the Kielder Reservoir. I will convey my hon. Friend's views to the Secretary of State for the Environment and will see whether he can make a statement next week.

Mr. Loughlin

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Motion No. 252 on the rating system. This system is placing an enormous burden on all sections of the community, particularly in rural areas where properties are being revalued on the basis of prices which can he got for them in the commuter market and from the point of view of people having two homes. Could he arrange for a debate on the whole rating system?

[That this House, conscious of the need for a complete reorganisation of the rating system, regrets that Her Majesty's Government persists in its policy of rating revaluation; recognises that such a revaluation will inevitably increase the burden on domestic ratepayers, who at the same time are faced with rate demands based upon a fictitious ' notional rent' arrived at on the basis of an individual person's judgment and which can bear no relation to the value of the property; rejects the concept that domestic ratepayers shall be called upon to pay such rates without being informed of the individual factors upon which the rateable value of the properties are fixed; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to arrange for each domestic ratepayer to be provided with a breakdown of all factors included in the ' notional rent' and on which the rates of the domestic property is based.]

Mr. Prior

There have been several opportunities recently to debate this matter, and I cannot promise further time. I cannot add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on 28th March.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Could my right hon. Friend give any idea when the House will debate the code for the guidance of the Pay Board and the Price Commission? I understand that the matter is subject to the affirmative procedure, and since these two bodies are now in business, is it not a matter of some urgency that we should debate the guidance which they have been given to assist them in their endeavours?

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend is correct. They are subject to the affirmative resolution and have to be brought before the House within a certain period—and they will be brought before the House. But the answer is, not next week.

Mr. Buchan

The question that was raised earlier relating to the export of live animals, on which many people feel deeply, also raises a more general question. I refer to the absolute necessity to have an early debate on agriculture. It is now a month since the annual price review, and we are seeing the process of the unscrambling of present agricultural procedures late at night when the Government are laying order after order. When will the Government give time for the House to discuss the whole subject of agriculture?

Mr. Prior

I certainly would welcome a debate on agricultural policy, but the Opposition seem to have shown a great reluctance to have a debate on this subject in their own time.

Mr. Faulds

Will the right hon. Gentleman suggest to the Paymaster-General that he should ask me to let him have a copy of my scheme for the introduction of a public lending right, which is long overdue? My scheme is practicable and it could be introduced without undue delay.

Mr. Prior

If the hon. Member has not already given the Paymaster-General a copy of his scheme and if the hon. Member will let me have a copy of it, I will see that the Paymaster-General receives it.

Mr. Marten

May I take up again the question of Motion No. 243 on the raising of the age for a driving licence? Does my right hon. Friend recall that last week in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition he said that the matter was being delayed because of translation and documentary difficulties? Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have with me the original French draft directive, that it has been more than adequately translated into English by the Department of the Environment and that the running off of enough copies could be done within 24 hours? May we have an assurance that we shall debate this important matter the week after we return from the Easter Recess?

Mr. Prior

There is, of course, now an unholy alliance between my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and the Opposition in seeking to have this debate. [Interruption.] No, I have not an unholy alliance with anybody on this subject. The translation has been prepared by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Translation Section and it is available in the Vote Office, so there is now no problem about it from that point of view.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is that not an extraordinary way of putting the matter? Whether it is an holy alliance, a concept of Europe, or whatever it may be, these are matters which affect the laws of this country and it is right that the House should have them. There is no alliance, the right hon. Gentleman has seen the motion on the Order Paper, and it is widely desired that the motion should be debated. Last week we all thought, because of the warm way in which the Leader of the House spoke about his hopes, that we would be debating the matter within a short time of the translation of the documents. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his words?

Mr. Prior

I do not think I need reconsider the words I have used. I cannot find time at the moment for a debate on the subject. We can reconsider the matter after the recess.

Mr. Kelley

Will the leader of the House try to find time to discuss Motion No. 266 regarding the conduct of the National Coal Board and its commercial relations with outside bodies, since the board has announced that it intends to conduct a private inquiry—which, in the eyes of the public is tantamount to a whitewash operation allowing the board to examine its own navel at its leisure.

[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

We must leave it to the Select Committee to decide whether it wishes to investigate the matters raised in the hon. Member's motion. There have already been several inquiries, and my hon. Friend announced on 26th February that the board has decided to conduct a general reveiew by independent experts of purchasing procedures.

Mr. Body

Although I, too, run the risk of being alleged to be party to an unholy alliance, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that when the Conservative Party were in opposition we often had debates on agriculture because we regard it as an important subject and industry? If the Opposition will not allow one of their Supply Days to be used for the purpose, could we not have a de bate on this subject in Government time? Will my right hon. Friend say whether the House will have an opportunity to debate the future of farm prices before the new prices come into effect on 1st May?

Mr. Prior

There was an opportunity only a week before last to debate agriculture. In reply to my hon. Friend's point about what the Conservatives did in opposition, I must tell him that we had debates on agricultural subjects because we, as the then Opposition, made time for them. I should welcome it if the Opposition did the same for us now.

Sir G. de Freitas

Is it not a fact that it is the Government's duty to provide time for the House to debate the Government's agricultural policy?

Mr. Prior

The Government's policy on agriculture is well know, and if hon. Gentlemen do not like it they should table a motion and debate it. We would welcome it.

Mr. William Hamilton

When will the House have an opportunity to debate the Franks Committee Report? The right hon. Gentleman gave an assurance some time ago that he would look at what the Prime Minister said on this matter in answer to a question which I tabled some months ago when he indicated that a debate would take place in this House before the Government came to a decision on the matter. Will he give an assurance that such a debate will take place before the Government announce their policy?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. We recognise the desire for a debate, and I hope that it will not be too long delayed.

Mr. George Cunningham

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, by the good sense of hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Government's intention to deny tax relief to contributors to the new State Reserve Pension Scheme, alone among all pensions, has been turned down upstairs? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement next week on whether the Government will accept that position, or will they try to dragoon their members into the lobbies and restore the disgraceful proposal which they originally put forward?

Mr. Prior

I will convey those views to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Michael Foot

Reverting to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition a few minutes ago about the steel industry and steel prices, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that any decision or understanding on the part of the Government about raising steel prices will be announced in a statement to the House, so that questions on the matter may be put to the Government?

Secondly, on the question of a debate about agriculture, will the right hon. Gentleman take into account that the circumstances of the House of Commons today are different from those of any time in its modern history, in the sense that decisions about food prices in Britain are made elsewhere and that time has to be provided by the Opposition, apparently, to deal with this subject? That is why we had a debate on this subject on Tuesday, 3rd April. No doubt we could have had a debate on agriculture generally if we had not had to deal with the immediate subject. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman also take into account that he has not sought to accommodate the House yet, even in accepting and approving the unanimous recommendations of a Select Committee as to how the House of Commons might be given proper opportunities to discuss these matters? Will the right hon. Gentleman cease making taunts to the Opposition about providing time, as we have been trying to remedy the situation created by the Government?

Mr. Prior

I do not accept that, because the hon. Gentleman knows only too well that we could have made much more progress over dealing with European legislation if he had not baulked the setting up of a committee last year.

Steel prices are matters for the British Steel Corporation which, I understand, will be making an announcement shortly.

Regarding a debate on agriculture and food prices, I do not believe that one can separate the one from the other. That was why we had the debate last week.

Mr. Foot

On the question of steel prices, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that, on a matter of such importance affecting the whole British economy and the whole counter-inflation question— as steel prices might affect it—no statement is to be made to the House on this subject and that no Minister will be able to be questioned on it?

On the question of the European Communities Act, will the right hon. Gentle- man further take into account that if the amendments tabled by the Opposition had been accepted, these increases in food prices could have been carried through only on an affirmative resolution? We would have protected the House of Commons. That is why we have to have debates by these other methods.

Mr. Prior

Neither of those two points is connected in any way with the business of the House—

Hon. Members: Oh.

Mr. Foot rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is becoming an argument.

Mr. Foot

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not perfectly within the normal arrangements and custom of this House that hon. Members of the Opposition should be allowed to put questions about statements to be made in the House during the following week? My question was to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would arrange for a statement to be made next week about steel prices. If I understood you correctly, Mr. Speaker, you have just ruled that that was an improper question. I submit, Mr. Speaker, that it was the kind of question which has been constantly put by the Opposition.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I did nothing of the sort. I was concerned about what was following on. I have allowed three questions from the Opposition Front Bench today.