HC Deb 08 February 1973 vol 850 cc655-63
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

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 12TH FEBRUARY—Consideration of Private Members' Motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, Second Reading of the Education Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Medicines (Extension of Antimicrobal Substances) Order.

TUESDAY 13TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Bill [Lords].

Motions relating to the Criminal Appeal Rules and References to the Crown Court and the European Court.

WEDNESDAY 14TH FEBRUARY—Supply (8th allotted day). There will be a debate, until about seven o'clock, on an Opposition Motion on VAT and children's clothing.

Afterwards, resumption of the Second Reading of the Anti-Discrimination (No. 2) Bill.

THURSDAY 15TH FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Furnished Lettings (Rent Allowances) Bill and of the Concorde Aircraft Bill.

FRIDAY 16TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 19TH FEBRUARY—Supply (9th allotted day). Debate on a topic to be announced.

Mr. Wilson

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the White Paper on steel is being published this afternoon? Will he further undertake to have discussions through the usual channels about the debate in Government time which has been promised so that an opportunity can be arranged which is reasonably urgent but which will give enough time for people in the steel areas to study the implications of the White Paper?

Can we take it that he accepts the view that the immigration orders which the House will shortly be called upon to debate should be taken together because of the reaction of one area of immigration on others in trying to reach reasonably fair and workable arrangements?

My next point arises out of the Prime Minister's answers on Tuesday. I did not raise a point of order on this and I recognise what a difficult problem it is. The Prime Minister was faced, as everyone before him has been faced, with the problem of returning from abroad and deciding whether to answer Questions within the allotted 15 minutes or to ask leave to do it in another way. Clearly there was an important debate on housing to follow on that day and the Prime Minister did not like to encroach upon the time for it. On the other hand, many Questions were shut out. Will the Leader of the House have a word with his right hon. Friend to confirm that he was not trying to lay down a pattern for the future but was taking a difficult decision in the light of the fact that the housing debate was to follow?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend will have noted the point that has been raised.

The steel White Paper is being published this afternoon and I hope that we shall be able to fit in a debate before the Budget, if that is convenient to the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members. I am prepared to consider what the right hon. Gentleman said about the b immigration rules. Perhaps we can discuss that in the space of the next few days.

Dame Irene Ward

In view of the fact—and I am very glad of it—that the Prime Minister is going to see representatives of the Association of Municipal Corporations, of which I am proud to be a vice-president, and other organisations representing local authorities, may I ask my right hon. Friend how, when those discussions, which are of great importance to people all over the country, have taken place, the Prime Minister will let us know the results. which I hope he will do in some detail? May I also ask whether it will then be possible—because I think many people would like to contribute—to have a debate on the subject, since this is of vital importance to all sections of the community in the country?

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend will have noticed that there is a debate on this important subject in Private Members' time on Monday. I have noted what she said about any announcement or statement following my right hon. Friend's discussions with the AMC and the leaders of the great cities, and of course we shall consider that.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to the number and similarity of Press reports in this morning's newspapers to the effect that the BBC's charter is to be extended by five years and that the fourth television channel is to be allocated to commercial interests? Is it the intention of the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications to make a statement or indeed to initiate a debate on this subject next week?

Mr. Prior

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this is pure speculation. No decisions have as yet been taken on this important issue. Of course it will be necessary before long to bring to the House the Government's reply to the Select Committee on the IBA.

Dame Joan Vickers

In view of the very important recommendations in the Report of the Departmental Committee on the Adoption of Children—the Houghton Report—may I ask my right hon. Friend whether we are to have a debate on this in the near future?

Mr. Prior

I know that this is a very important report. It is still being considered by the Government. We have not had it very long, but I will draw my right hon. Friend's attention to it and ask him whether he can say anything further.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Is the Leader of the House aware that, while we are grateful to him for the conversations he has had with Scottish Labour Members about setting up a Select Committee on Scottish affairs, we should be grateful if he would try to make a statement this afternoon? Is he aware that we do not accept the offer of a joint committee with the House of Lords as it is constitutionally somewhat unusual in that it does involve a matter which is outwith procedure? We should like him to think again about setting up a Select Committee on Scottish affairs of the House of Commons to deal with energy policy in Scotland.

Mr. Prior

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have had discussions and listened to the views put to me in all parts of the House. I have taken into account the pressure of work this Session on Scottish Members and I propose not to recommend the establishment of a Select Committee in this session. I hope, however, to set one up next Session.

Mr. Moate

My hon. Friend last week gave a helpful reply on draft EEC regulations. As these matters are of some importance and urgency and cannot await the eventual outcome of the ad hoc Committee or the wishes of the Opposition, can he say whether he intends to make time available fairly soon for debate on these urgent and important regulations?

Mr. Prior

As I have said previously, I hope we shall have early advice from the ad hoc Committee. In the meantime, I would welcome discussions on the best means of identifying the drafts which are considered the most important. If through the usual channels, or direct, my hon. Friend or others would like to put views to me, I would consult both the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the people responsible for the business of the House to see whether we might be able to arrange a short, limited debate on perhaps Wednesday or Thursday of the coming week.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

The Leader of the House will be well aware that there has been no debate on agriculture since June 1971. Does he appreciate that there is complete uncertainty about the future of grants and subsidies for the market, as also about the functions of the agricultural marketing boards? Will he remedy the situation as soon as possible by allowing these crucial questions to be debated in this House?

Mr. Prior

Without entering into some of the more controversial remarks of the hon. Gentleman, it is not unusual for debates on agriculture to take place on Supply Days. I am quite certain that the Government would be only too ready to debate at any time the present state of the agricultural industry.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are many public bodies in Northern Ireland which were ordered by law by the Stormont to leave their annual reports on the Table for debate, and is he aware that since direct rule none of those reports has been receiving consideration at all and that those public bodies can spend whatever money they like without any scrutiny? Would he keep in mind when arranging Northern Ireland business the need for an opportunity for some of those very important Northern Ireland reports to be considered?

Mr. Prior

I will certainly take note of what my hon. Friend said. We have had a number of short debates on Northern Ireland matters this week. I think we are having a rest from them next week, but we shall have to consider what we can do in the future.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris), can we know from the Leader of the House when we may expect time for a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries covering the Independent Broadcasting Authority? Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when his right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications will let the Committee have a reply to the report it made on that industry for which he is responsible?

Mr. Prior

In answer to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I hope the reply will not be long delayed now. On the first part of his question, I cannot promise him an early debate on the Select Committee's report, but of course one of the important debates would be on the IBA report.

Mr. Fell

May I ask my right hon. Friend a question about Friday debates? We have now had two occasions within the memory of my right hon. Friend, although he was not in his present position when the first arose on the Family Planning Bill, on which the usual channels, with the help of your good offices, Mr. Speaker, have managed to find methods of circumventing what has been the normal procedure of Private Members' Bills on Friday. May I ask whether the usual channels in this case concerning the Bill of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) last Friday had recourse in fact to the usual methods? In other words, could he tell us the precedents for the action that has now been agreed between the usual channels? I realise, of course, what the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has just whispered at me, that it is their time, but my question is understandable, I should have thought, in that I am asking for the precedents for this sort of procedure.

Mr. Prior

These are always extremely difficult matters for the Leader of the House. I appreciate the point which my hon. Friend has made. As with my predecessors on both sides of the House, I think it would only be very exceptionally that it would be found right to take Private Members' Bills outside Private Members' time. I made it quite clear on Friday that I could see no chance of the Government's being able to provide time for a Private Member's Bill of this nature. But I have tried to meet what I thought and hoped were the wishes of the House as a whole in what I regard as an entirely exceptional "one-off" case.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I did not recognise the description of my part in this as "good offices" at all.

Mr. David Steel

A few minutes ago the Leader of the House said that he had had discussions in all parts about a Scottish Select Committee. He threw out an interesting suggestion about the possibility of a joint Committee of both Houses. Will he elaborate on that?

Mr. Prior

I am sorry. When I said "in all parts", I meant that I had had discussions with a number of individual hon. Members. But I have not had official discussions with, as it were, political parties as such.

Mr. Fell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You very kindly said just now, Mr. Speaker, that you did not recognise your part in these matters as your good offices. May I correct the record and say that I was not referring to what happened last Friday when I talked about Mr. Speaker's good offices. I was referring to the former occasion on which I think it is true, Mr. Speaker, that you used your good offices to some effect.

Mr. Speaker

I am delighted to hear of it. I was not aware of it.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

In view of what my right hon. Friend said in reply to the question about EEC regulations and a debate in the House next week, will he bear in mind that a plenary session is to take place next week and that it would be unfortunate if those who are taking part in it that were unable to take part in a debate in the House? In view of that fact, and in view of the extraordinary unrest in the international monetary market at present, and the need for monetary co-operation in Europe for the benefit of all Western European countries, as well as the United States of America, will my right hon. Friend consider whether these matters might be debated in the near future before the Budget?

Mr. Prior

I have noted what my hon. Friend said about my suggestions for a debate on the draft regulations. As to his latter point, I doubt whether there will be an opportunity in the next two or three weeks for such a debate, but I shall bear in mind what he said.

Mr. C. Pannell

Reverting to the matter of the Anti-Discrimination (No. 2) Bill, will the Leader of the House accept that the action he has taken in cooperation with the Opposition Chief Whip is action that lends itself not only to the good sense of the House but also to the overwhelming sense of fairness in the country? We have now reached a stage when, by a strategem, a Bill has been defeated twice, and the right hon. Gentleman is fulfilling the best duties of the House to rescue the House from an absurdity.

Mr. Prior

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I must say that it was not a strategem that prevented the Bill from having a Second Reading. These are extremely difficult matters, and I think that the more I say the more trouble I am likely to get into.

Mr. John Silkin

Can the Leader of the House give an assurance that the White Paper on private practice and the National Health Service will be published before Second Reading of the National Health Service (Reorganisation) Bill?

Mr. Prior

I should like to consider that. I wrote to one of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends last week about it and said that I hoped that it would be published. I am not sure whether I used the words "as soon as possible" or "in the near future". I should like to check on that and let the right hon. Gentleman know.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

Will my right hon. Friend clarify his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell)? Did he say that the use of a Supply Day to advance Private Members' legislation, however urgently canvassed, is an entirely new departure or that there are precedents?

Mr. Prior

As far as I know, there are no precedents for using a Supply Day in that way. But the whole way in which we now use Supply Days has been changed in the last two or three years, so in any case the precedents would not go back very far. However, on that subject, the Government of the day have complete control over the Order Paper, and the type of procedure which we are adopting next week can come about only with the co-operation of the Government as well.

Mr. Ross

It is most unwelcome that there is to be no Scottish Select Committee. The Leader of the House said that he had done this because of the workload on Scottish Members. Is he aware that the workload is no greater than it was last year, and no greater than it will be next year? Is not the truth of the matter that he just cannot find Scottish Tory Members willing to serve?

Mr. Prior

Many other Select Committees are being set up. I think that it is only fair that as those Select Committees are, as it were, Committees for the whole House, Scottish Members should also have a chance of serving on them.

Mr. Cormack

May we have the promised debate on the parliamentary building before Easter, at any rate? May we also have a statement next week on the scupperies in the car park?

Mr. Prior

On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I cannot promise a debate at a particular time, but obviously the matter of accommodation is becoming urgent. On the latter part of the question, I gather that the discovery of the conduit in New Palace Yard is of great interest and that it is hoped in some way that it may be taken down and, perhaps re-erected in another place.

Mr. Duffy

Has the Leader of the House seen Early Day Motion No. 159 in my name and in the names of my hon. Friends, referring to the tendency towards censorship by the Independent Broadcasting Authority? Is he aware that this relates to a television documentary on the life of Michael Collins and that the documentary will not be shown in Northern Ireland? Finally, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that although the documentary presents Mr. Lloyd-George as capable of duplicity and Sir Winston Churchill as an imperialist bully, it is the work of a Welshman? Does not the right hon. Gentleman consider that it ought to be made available for the House in order that hon. Members may arrive at a more balanced judgment of the extent of Britain's responsibility for the present state of affairs in Northern Ireland?

[That this House regrets the decision of the Independent Broadcasting Authority to ban the showing of the television documentary 'Hang Out Your Brightest Colours' and notes that in any event the film would not have been shown in Northern Ireland; and further regrets this additional evidence of growing censorship and requests that the film be made available for screening to Members of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster.]

Mr. Prior

The responsibility for programme content was again made clear at Question Time yesterday. However, I am sure that the terms of the motion will be noted by those concerned.