HC Deb 20 December 1973 vol 866 cc1614-9
Mr. Harold Wilson

Will the Leader of the House kindly indicate his present thinking on the issues that the House may be debating in the first week after the recess?

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

May I give the House the business which may take place when we return:

TUESDAY 15TH JANUARY—Supply (8th allotted day).

The Question will be put on all outstanding Supplementary Estimates and on the Civil Vote on Account.

Debate on a motion to take note of reports from the Expenditure Committee.

WEDNESDAY 16TH JANUARY—Progress on the remaining stages of the Local Government Bill.

THURSDAY 17TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Companies Bill.

FRIDAY 18TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill.

Mr. Wilson

This business statement, unusually, is not to be taken seriously. It represents no more than the doodlings of the Leader of the House about what we may be debating, and events may mean that the priority of debates will be entirely different. My only question, which I hope he will take seriously—he is, after all, Leader of the House—is this: is he aware that the House as a whole hopes that he will have a very happy Christmas?

Mr. Prior

That is certainly the most pleasant question I have ever been asked during business questions. I should like to respond and to wish the whole House and you, Mr. Speaker, a happy Christmas.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

My right hon. Friend has indicated the date of the Second Reading of the Companies Bill. What is now the position about the Green Paper on worker participation and the projected debate thereon?

Mr. Prior

I hope that the Green Paper will be available fairly early in the new year, after which the House will wish to have time to debate it.

Mr. Swain

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time to debate in the not-too-distant future Early Day Motion No. 116.

[That this House believes that the Secretary of State for the Environment has been grossly negligent in the way he has handled the refusal of Clay Cross UDC to implement the Housing Finance Act of 1972; suggests that the Minister should have sent in the Housing Commission in July 1972 as requested by the Council at Clay Cross; considers that as a consequence of his refusal to act he has penalised the 11 members of Clay Cross Council for something that the Secretary of State should have done in the first place; and believes that the Minister should be compelled to make a statement in the House and apologise to the 11 members for his neglect.]

That is a serious motion because its effect is that the responsible Secretary of State has been criminally negligent in not sending in the Housing Commission for a period of 14 months. Therefore, he has neglected everybody in Clay Cross and, above all, encouraged the very people whom that mob on the Conservative benches have been condemning. Will he find time to discuss this urgent motion? No doubt Conservative Members could be in the Smoking Room during the period of the debate.

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. In a less fraternal mood than that in which I replied to the point put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I must totally reject the terms of Motion No. 116. I do not consider it right to debate these matters while the issues involved are before the courts.

Mr. Swain

They are not before the court. They are finished.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that before any ministerial decision is reached about the massive nuclear programme to be undertaken by the CEGB, he must take account of the fact that there is widespread anxiety that any decision must be preceded by the publication of a Green Paper and a debate in this House? May we assume from the fact that this matter does not feature in the first week's business after the Recess that no decision will have been taken by that time?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry dealt with this point in his speech on Tuesday evening, and I have nothing to add. I shall see that the additional points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) are brought to the Secretary of State's attention, but I have no knowledge that an announcement will be made as soon as we return after the recess.

Mr. Sheldon

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, when we return, the debate on public expenditure will relate to the White Paper on public expenditure? Will he further comment on the undertaking that in normal circumstances there would be a debate following the publication of the White Paper, with a further debate in the Budget proceedings? This matter is particularly important because the Government are resting largely on public expenditure cuts as the main instrument of their economic planning. As a result it will be more necessary than normal to examine the implications in a public expenditure debate.

Mr. Prior

The debate to be held when the House resumes is not a debate on the White Paper on public expenditure. I hope to arrange that debate shortly afterwards. It will be before the Budget, and I hope that it will be shortly after the first week the House resumes.

Mr. Idris Owen

Will my right hon. Friend accept the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and recognise that there is grave perturbation on the serious question of nuclear power? Will he assure the House that there is no evidence to suggest that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will come to the House only when the decision is made? Will he accept that grave problems are involved and that the nation desires a full debate before any decision is made about the purchase of light water reactors from the United States?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is well aware of the anxiety on this matter in the House and indeed the interest that is taken in this subject, and he has on several occasions dealt with it. I repeat what my right hon. Friend said— namely that no decision has been reached. I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the strong views of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen).

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, despite anxieties expressed in business questions last week on the prospective decision of the Minister of Transport Industries in respect of the SELNEC PTA Piccadilly-Victoria rapid transit scheme in the greater Manchester area, the Minister this evening will indicate, in reply to a Written Question, that he is giving what has been interpreted as a qualified go-ahead to this scheme? Will he confirm that the Minister's decision means a go-ahead to the scheme, and will he explain that this is a crucial decision which has not been announced to the House?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend is answering two Questions today, one from the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) and the other from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Fidler), and I think that it would be wrong for me to go further than to say that the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris) will have to await the answers to those Questions.

Mr. Fowler

Can my right hon. Friend give a firm assurance that there will be an opportunity in the new year to debate the Government's policy on crime? May I remind him that it is now more than 18 months since the Criminal Law Revision Committee reported and that that very important report has been debated virtually everywhere, apart from in this Chamber?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. I am aware of my hon. Friend's anxiety and of the number of times that he has raised the matter of the report. I hope that we shall be able to find time for a debate. My hon. Friend asked for a debate in the new year. I hope that it will be possible fairly early in the new year.

Mr. George Cunningham

Is the Leader of the House aware of the large number of recommendations of the Procedure Committee outstanding which have not yet been considered by the House? May we have some indication about when the right hon. Gentleman will be able to squeeze in those recommendations?

Mr. Prior

I should like to look into that, but I cannot see an early opportunity for a debate on these matters.

Dame Irene Ward

In view of the fact that there are certain rumours that the order is about to be laid concerning the Kielder Dam, may I ask my right hon. Friend once again whether it will be before or after Christmas? He will be aware that I am very grateful to him. However, I should like a Christmas present.

Mr. Prior

Nothing would suit me better than to be able to give my hon. Friend a Christmas present. However, I have no further news beyond that which I gave her last week. I have done my best, and so has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to see that the order should go through as quickly as possible, and I shall remind my right hon. Friend of his undertaking to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward).

Mr. Elystan Morgan

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to use all his powers of persuasion with his right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to try to get the Agricultural Price Review statement made as early as possible in the New Year and, if possible, in the very first week of our return? Is he aware that there are grave apprehensions in the agriculture industry about the £500 million-plus increase in production costs suffered this year and that this is the most astronomic increase in the history of British agriculture?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend is well aware of the problems of the agriculture industry, as I am. The £500 million increase in costs is an indication of the cost of world supplies this year. However, I do not think that my right hon. Friend will be able to make a statement as early as our first week back. I know that he is keen to bring the Price Review to a satisfactory conclusion as early as possible, and I will convey the hon. Gentleman's remarks to him.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to look again at Early Day Motion No. 24, and will he bear in mind that by the time that the House comes back after the recess, if we are to have a chance to debate the withdrawal of check-in facilities at West London Air Terminal, these will have been withdrawn already for some 11 days? Will my right hon. Friend try to do something to assist the travelling public?

[That this House calls upon the British Airports Authority and British Airways to retain the check-in system at the Cromwell Road Terminal at least until the rail link to Heathrow is open for passenger use.]

Mr. Prior

I believe that certain statements are likely to be made in another place, but I should like to check again on the views expressed by my hon. Friend and, if necessary, to write to him about them.

Dr. Marshall

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time soon after the recess for a debate on the Report of the Departmental Working Party on School Transport?

Mr. Prior

That report has only just been published, and it is too early yet to think about a debate. In any event, I should not be able to find time in the immediate future.

Several hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on. Mr. Davies. Statement.

Mr. Russell Kerr

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not aware that we have an excessively crowded programme this afternoon, and I wish to refer the Leader of the House to a matter concerning London Airport which is of very urgent importance—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do my best during business questions, and I try to call almost all hon. Members who rise immediately after the business statement. However hon. Members have a habit of rising subsequently with the result that, if I were to call everyone, business questions could go on for ever. I think that we must move on now.