HC Deb 12 July 1973 vol 859 cc1790-6
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)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 16TH JULY—Supply (28th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on Scottish Affairs.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Social Security Bill.

Proceedings on the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill (Lords).

TUESDAY, 17TH JULY—Until Seven o'clock there will be a debate on the visit of the Portuguese Premier, which will arise on a motion for the adjournment of the House.

Afterwards, remaining stages of the Insurance Companies Bill (Lords).

Any Lords Amendments to the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill and to the Water Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 18TH JULY—Supply (29th Allotted Day). The Question will be put on all outstanding Votes.

Debate on an Opposition motion of No Confidence on Inflation.

Consideration of any Lords Amendments to the Fair Trading Bill.

THURSDAY, 19TH JULY—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

FRIDAY, 20TH JULY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 23RD JULY—Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Debate on the Reports of the Pay Board and Price Commission.

The House will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should adjourn at the end of the week after next, until Tuesday, 16th October.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The House will have heard the right hon. Gentleman's last few words with some degree of satisfaction, although a great deal of important business remains to be debated before then.

On Tuesday, we shall be debating the visit of the Portuguese Prime Minister. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, following the discussions through the usual channels about the debate, we would like to thank him for his part? The time will be supplied by the Opposition from the half-day borrowed by the Government during the last Session. I understand that the Government had intended to devote the whole day to the other business which the right hon. Gentleman has announced for Tuesday, and in view of the accommodation of the Government in the matter, we shall do our best, as he has been told, to facilitate the Government's business on the Insurance Companies Bill and the other legislation and we shall try to get it through by a reasonable hour.

Mr. Prior

I confirm that the position regarding Tuesday's business is as the right hon. Gentleman stated. I shall be grateful for the co-operation of the Opposition on the other business following the debate on the visit of the Portuguese Prime Minister.

Sir F. Bennett

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on 20th March I asked when an announcement would be made, one way or another, on the review of the law of picketing by the Home Secretary? I was told that it would be made within two weeks. The two weeks have long since passed and a whole series of other reasons has been given for not making the announcement, the most recent being that there is a case before the courts. Will there be an announcement before the recess or is the House to be kept in the dark until next Session?

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend has had an answer from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on this subject, and I have to tell him now that, as notice of appeal to another place has been lodged in a case which concerns an important aspect of the law relating to picketing, my right hon. Friend proposes to defer his statement giving the Government's conclusions about the law of picketing until the appeal has been decided.

Mr. McBride

My Private Member's Bill, the Alkali Inspectorate Bill, passed through the Committee stage on 13th and 20th June. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at 3.5 p.m. today no copies of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee proceedings were in the Vote Office? Does he realise that this places an inhibition on hon. Members in preparing for the Report stage? In view of the importance of this measure to deal with pollution of the air, will the right hon. Gentleman see that sufficient time is given to the Bill to enable it to have a complete Report stage and proper discussion, since obviously, on 20th July, it is likely to receive hopelessly inadequate time for its Report stage, with four other Bills preceding it?

Mr. Prior

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I could not allow any additional time for discussion of his Bill or any other private Members' Bills which hon. Members might like to see on the Statute Book. I am sorry if there has been some printing delay of the reports of the Committee proceedings, but I understand that the transcripts are now available and I hope that the printing will soon be carried out.

Major-General Jack d'Avigdor Goldsmid

Are we to have a debate on the report of the Nugent Committee, and, if so, when?

Mr. Prior

There could not be a debate on the report before the recess, but I will consider it along with other outstanding issues for debate at a late stage.

Mr. Thorpe

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has announced the dates for the recess, is he aware that unless a writ for Berwick-upon-Tweed is moved before we rise, the electors of that constituency will remain unrepresented for very nearly six months? May we take it that the writ will be moved next week, or at any rate the week after?

Mr. Prior

As the right hon. Gentleman knows quite well, that is a matter for the Government, since the last Member for the constituency was a member of the governing party. I can never quite understand whether the Liberals think they gain most from an early by-election or a late one.

Mr. Evelyn King

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early Day Motion No. 354, which draws attention to the slightly unusual decision by the Government that war widows—that is, young war widows—whose husbands were killed in 1973 or thereafter are to receive an additional pension, whereas older and sometimes more infirm war widows whose husbands were killed many years ago receive no comparable benefit? The motion is signed by hon. Members of all three parties in almost equal proportions. There is considerable concern about the matter. Will my right hon. Friend give the House an opportunity to discuss the principle which lies behind the decision?

[That this House, while expressing its deepest sympathy to recent service widows and acknowledging that no financial payment, however great, can compensate them for their loss, welcomes the Government's payment from 31st March 1973, to service widows of £2,650 and a pension of £39 per week, but finds the differentiation in terms of compensation to these service widows, compared with war widows, whose loss was no less great, inequitable, and calls upon Her Majesty's Government, who have done more for pensioners, including war widows, than any other government, to end this injustice by awarding a non-retrospective pension to all war widows not in receipt of a National Insurance Retirement Pension, equal to that which is being awarded to 1973 service widows.]

Mr. Prior

I am aware of the anxiety that hon. Members feel on this subject. The difficulty for the Government is that any improvement one makes at any time shows up perhaps some other things one would like to do. The basic war widow's pension has been increased from £8.80 to £10.10 and the special war widow's age allowance from £1 to £1.30. An elderly war widow will thus be getting £11.40 compared with £9.80, which itself compares with only £7.25 in June 1970. The Government are also committed to annual reviews. While I appreciate that hon. Members want to go further more quickly, the Government have an excellent record.

Mr. Spriggs

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) about the final stages of the Alkali Inspectorate Bill? Large numbers of my constituents live in fear of damage to the health of their families through pollution of the atmosphere. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an opportunity to pass judgment on this valuable Bill?

Mr. Prior

The views on this Bill are, to say the least, mixed, and I do not believe that it would be right for the Government to give special time for it when there are so many other considerations before the House.

Mr. Money

In the light of the deep concern which has been expressed in certain sectors of the Press in the past week over the recent series of tests on Department of Health and Social Security invalid vehicles, can my right hon. Friend either arrange for a debate on this subject or invite his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement?

Mr. Prior

Certainly I will talk to my right hon. Friend about this matter, which everyone in the House knows to be an important issue. It could perhaps form the subject of a short debate in the business for next week.

Mrs. Castle

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Early Day Motion No. 397 which already has been signed by nearly 200 hon. Members representing all parties in the House and which sets out a way in which we could begin at last properly to remunerate the secretaries to whom hon. Members owe so much?

In view of the unfairness of the present situation, both to secretaries and to hon. Members themselves, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we have an opportunity at an early date to discuss this matter in the House?

[That this House considers that the salaries of Members' secretaries should be aligned to an appropriate Civil Service salary structure, and that payment should be made front a central body with each Member nominating a secretary who shall receive the payment and with each Member retaining the right of appointment and termination.]

Mr. Prior

Before the House carried out a suggestion of this kind it would need very careful thought. It would be a considerable change, as the right hon. Lady recognises, in the method of employment of secretaries. Certainly it is not an easy problem. But I am considering the whole matter. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will know that this is not a particularly easy one.

Mr. Waddington

On Tuesday we are to have another three-hour debate. In view of the fact that such debates can be very successful but can also be ruined by the selfishness of one or two backbench Members, may I commend to my right hon. Friend's attention Early Day Motion No. 388 on the subject of shorter speeches? Will my right hon. Friend try to arrange a debate on the subject as soon as possible?

[That this House, noting the success of recent short debates, instructs the Select Committee on Procedure to propose a scheme for limiting the length of speeches in such debates.]

Mr. Prior

The best way for the House to help on all this is to implement the suggestion in that motion. It is what the House did in a recent debate. I hope that the practice will be followed.

Mr. George Grant

In view of the announcement in the national Press this morning that the National Coal Board is negotiating the hiving-off of the profitable Northern Brick Company, bearing in mind the fact that the unions have just completed protracted negotiations on the possibilities of setting up holding companies and subsidiaries, and bearing in mind also the damaging effect that this development could have on industrial relations for the mining industry, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will make a statement on this matter next week?

Mr. Prior

I shall consult my right hon. Friend on this matter. But it seems to me that it lies primarily within the responsibility of the National Coal Board to make such a decision.

Mr. Marten

In view of the fact that between now and the time that we rise for the Summer Recess there are to be several meetings of the Council of Ministers, may we have an assurance that each Minister' attending a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Brussels will come back to this House and report on that meeting? We want to know what goes on.

Mr. Prior

I think that it would be much better if we stuck to the usual arrangement, which is that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster makes a general report when appropriate on what has been happening in the Council of Ministers. But if some specific point arises concerning another Minister and it is of sufficient importance to take up the time of the House. I shall arrange for that Minister to come to the House to make a statement.

Mr. Jay

As there is to be a series of meetings of the EEC Council of Ministers between 16th and 24th July, cannot we be assured that each Minister involved will report to this House?

Mr. Prior

It will "be much better for the progress of the business of this House if we carry on in the way in which we have arranged these matters in the past few months.

Several Hon. Members