HC Deb 19 July 1973 vol 860 cc724-33
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, 23RD JULY—Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Debate on a motion to take note of the Reports of the Pay Board and Price Commission.

Motion to take note of the Draft Directive of the European Communities relating to raising the age for driving licences.

Remaining stages of the Government Trading Funds Bill, of the Nature Conservancy Council Bill (Lords) and of the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Bill (Lords).

TUESDAY, 24TH JULY—Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on Metrication on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to Bills which may be received.

Orders and Regulations relating to Social Security, Northern Ireland, Southern Rhodesia, the European Communities, Welsh Water, Noise Insulation and Agriculture.

WEDNESDAY, 25TH JULY—It Will be proposed that the House should meet at 11 a.m., take Questions until 12 noon and adjourn at five o'clock until Tuesday, 16th October.

It may be convenient if I say now that the business proposed for Tuesday, 16th October will be a debate on the Hardman Report. Further business for that week will be announced later.

Mr. Wilson

May I take up first the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) which you, Mr. Speaker, ruled as being a dubious point of order. May I now ask, in order, whether the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that an early statement is made on this matter, if not today on the Consolidated Fund Bill then early next week?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentle. man give an assurance that no agreement and particularly no treaty will be reached and signed with the Government of France concerning the Channel Tunnel until there has been a debate in the Commons capable of giving approval to or rejecting any such action?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the growing concern, particularly in the West Riding, but also elsewhere, about the Government's attitude to successor councils in local government, with a number of pre-existing councils not now being given the status for the future which it is thought they should have? Will he say whether we can have a statement about this next week, because during the recess many important decisions can be made by the Minister for which he will not be accountable to the House? Finally, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the promised White Paper on the Companies Bill will be published before the recess?

Mr. Prior

I very much hope that the White Paper on the Companies Bill will be published before the recess, although it will probably not be published before Wednesday. If the point about the film studios is not dealt with on the Adjournment of the House or on the Consolidated Fund Bill, I will ask my right hon. Friend to see whether he can give further information next week. This matter could be relevant to business later today.

Dealing with successor councils, I would point out that a Prayer has been tabled concerning the Local Government Order and no doubt arrangements could be made for it to be debated, either in Committee or possibly on the Floor of the House. I shall be glad to see what arrangements can be made. In any event, I am confident that my right hon. and learned Friend will take account of what the right hon. Gentleman said. I believe that there is a good deal of anxiety on the point and I should like to have the chance to study it further and if necessary to ask my right hon. and learned Friend to report to the House.

I think it will be for the convenience of the House if my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries makes a statement about the Channel Tunnel, perhaps on Tuesday, telling the House exactly where the negotiations have got to and whether it would be convenient to publish a White Paper during the recess. I am certain that the point made by the right lion. Gentleman about no treaty being signed will be one of the points with which my right hon. Friend will wish to deal in his statement.

Mr. Fowler

Has the attention of my right hon. Friend been drawn to the House of Lords decision yesterday in the Distillers v. Sunday Times case? Does he agree that this judgment must cause new concern about the limits which the law of contempt places on the freedom of the Press to make comments? In view of the public importance of this subject, will he consider arranging an early debate?

Mr. Prior

This is a matter for great concern and it is one of the reasons why we set up the committee to look into it. We should now await the report of the Phillimore Committee. In view of what my hon. Friend said, and the widespread interest in this matter in all parts of the House, I will report this to my right hon. and learned Friend and see whether we shall be in a position to have a debate on our return from the recess.

Mr. C. Pannell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most laymen cannot understand how the judiciary is working these days? We get a ruling from the High Court, with the distinguished Court of Appeal overriding that ruling, and then we get a fairly arid ruling from the House of Lords afterwards. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we substituted the Court of Appeal for the House of Lords as the final appellate body we might get some sense in our considerations?

Mr. Prior

We shall obviously have to discuss what the right hon. Gentleman said but I do not think it can be next week.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the need, when we come back in the autumn, to discuss the position of agriculture particularly in this country and also the development of the common agricultural policy, which will be most important, both here and in Europe.

Mr. Prior

By the time we come back in the autumn it may well be that further information is available about the reforms considered necessary to the CAP. That would be a suitable time for a debate.

Mr. Lawson

May I revert to the question of forestry and ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government have yet completed their prolonged discussions on this subject and are in a position to make a statement before the House rises?

Mr. Prior

I will certainly convey that to my right hon. Friend and see whether it is possible for a statement to be made. I know that discussions have been going on but I am not certain whether they have been completed. I will try to find out and, if they have been completed, I will ask my right hon. Friend to make a statement.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is some dissatisfaction on both sides of the House about the way in which we discuss foreign affairs? In view of the written evidence I have given him, which shows that over the past eight years 65 per cent. of the speeches on foreign affairs have been made either by Front Bench Members or by 20 back bench Members will he find time for a short debate enabling the House to consider procedures which might improve the quality of the discussion on foreign affairs and increase the availability of Ministers concerned with this subject to more informed and rigorous examination by larger numbers of back bench Members?

Mr. Prior

This will not necessarily be an easy situation to improve, although I have much sympathy with my hon. Friend. I am grateful to him for letting me know that he intended to raise this subject. The whole question of foreign affairs debates and our other procedures needs looking at. We ought to consider whether we can conduct our debates so that more Members have a chance to take part and so that there are more precise debates more frequently on various itemised issues.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Has the right hon. Gentleman given further thought to having the Welsh Grand Committee sit as a Select Committee so that it would be able to interrogate Ministers intelligently on their policies rather than have to suffer long soliloquies in which ordinary members of the Committee are unable to play any meaningful part?

Mr. Prior

I have not given any further thought to that.

Mr. David James

Has my right hon. Friend seen the all-party motion No. 203?

[That this House, mindful of the injustice suffered by authors and other creators of original material through the lending of their works by libraries without appropriate recompense, urges Her Majesty's Government to amend the Copyright Act 1956 so as to give them the necessary protection under the law.]

This concerns the subject of public lending rights and calls for a fundamental amendment of the Copyright Act to protect authors whose books are lent by public libraries. A total of 265 Members have signed this motion, including the entirely acceptable amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), at end add but such amendment shall not entail a charge by libraries to borrowers of books". May we have time to debate this important subject in October in the hope that legislation will be introduced in the next Session?

Mr. Prior

This is an extremely complicated and complex matter, and I cannot hold out any hope of legislation. It would be wrong of me to do so. We can consider the possibility of a debate when we come back after the recess.

Mr. Hardy

Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that the debate on successor councils takes place in the House and not in Committee? Is he aware that Conservative-controlled councils which do not fit the criteria set down have been granted successor status, while Labour councils which clearly fit the criteria have been refused and have received letters from the Minister which seem to be careless, ill-justified and entirely infuriating?

Mr. Prior

I cannot accept the latter part of what the hon. Gentleman said. I can assure him that in another capacity I receive countless complaints about how the present Government have bent over backwards to suit the needs of the Labour Party instead of looking after their own interests. No doubt exactly the same thing happened the other way round when the hon. Gentleman's party was in government.

If a number of hon. Members wish to debate the Prayer, it can be debated on the Floor of the House. But it is unlikely that we could find time between now and Tuesday evening.

Mr. Redmond

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way to my pleas for a debate on metrication but why is it to be on a motion for the Adjournment and not on a motion to take note of or approve the White Paper on metrication published 18 months ago?

Mr. Prior

We thought this was a reasonable way of allowing a debate to go as wide as hon. Members might wish on a subject which is of widespread interest and some controversy.

Mr. Shore

Although we shall go into recess on Wednesday, the other legislature affecting this country will not. I refer to the Council of Ministers of the EEC. Can the Leader of the House give an assurance that he will make every effort to bring forward for a statement early next week any matters outstanding? I think, for example, of the major Supplementary Estimate which we know is somewhere in the pipeline. Failing that, will he go out of his way to ensure that major decisions are not taken while Parliament is not sitting, in the absence of any opportunity of questioning Ministers in Brussels in the next few months?

Mr. Prior

The Council of Ministers meets, I believe, on Monday and Tuesday next week. If decisions are reached, or there are important matters arising from its meetings, I shall try to make arrangements with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to make a statement. Barring that, I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that the work of the Council of Ministers cannot be held up while we are in recess, but the Government will make the necessary arrangements for the country to be kept informed.

Mr. Cockeram

While we welcome the Adjournment of the House on Wednesday afternoon, does my right hon. Friend appreciate that certain hon. Members have made arrangements to entertain constituents and that there is difficulty concerning the catering arrangements of the House later this week? Will my right hon. Friend make arrangements for those facilities to continue to be available?

Mr. Prior

I am in some difficulty. I have been informed of the matter by certain hon. Members. The difficulty is that the contract for the catering staff runs only while the House is sitting. They are free to go immediately the House adjourns. If my hon. Friend and other hon. Members approach the catering manager today, confirming their bookings for Wednesday evening and Thursday lunchtime, he will see, provided the numbers justify it, whether it is possible to overcome the difficulties. I cannot go further than that.

Dr. Miller

As the Leader of the House and the Minister for Industrial Development twice this afternoon answered questions which involved at least some kind of approval from our European partners, will the Leader of the House assure us that before we rise we shall have an answer to the points left in the air and be told whether there will be any objection from our European partners to the matters mentioned in the answers to those questions? If there is objection, it makes a mockery of any pretence to have a regional policy.

Mr. Prior

I think that my right hon. Friend made the position abundantly clear in his statement this afternoon. I do not think that there is any misunderstanding about the position between now and the end of the year. I am certain that when the hon. Gentleman reads what my right hon. Friend said he will come to that conclusion.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Can my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the Government's decision on the Maxwell-Stamp report on taxicabs, and draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the fact that both sides of the House are getting sick and tired of the delay in bringing this matter to fruition?

Mr. Prior

I will draw my right hon. Friend's attention to it.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Has the Leader of the House seen Motion No. 405?

[That this House, deeply concerned at the threat to the jobs of many thousands of men and women employed in sugar refining and processing in the United Kingdom as well as to the economies of the developing countries of the world dependent upon the continuing importation of 1.4 million tons of cane sugar, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the European Economic Community honours its specific and moral commitment. to the right hon. Member for Hexham. given during negotiations for entry.]

I declare my interest as a sponsored member of the General and Municipal Workers Union, which organises the labour in the sugar refining industry. Since 11,000 jobs—particularly in the development areas—are dependent upon the continuing importation of 1.4 million tons of cane sugar, and since the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food left many questions unanswered yesterday due to the pending major debate, does not the Leader of the House feel that the workers in tile industry are entitled to an assurance that the British Government will, if need be, use the veto on this issue? Will he arrange for a statement next week?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend said yesterday that the importing of 1.4 million tons of Commonwealth sugar to the Community is assured. Of course, what the hon. Gentleman has to realise —this is very important—is that there is over-capacity in the sugar refining industry, which is recognised by both employers and unions. This has to be sorted out over the next few years. I am certain that my right hon. Friend was absolutely firm on the amount of sugar which will be imported under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement.

Mr. S. James A. Hill

As we are expecting a decision from the Ministers in Brussels on the size of the regional development fund, and shortly after that the regional development committee for Europe will be appointed, with British members in Brussels, will it be possible to have a full debate on regional policy so that the views of the House can be relayed to Europe?

Mr. Prior

This would be a suitable subject for debate, but not before we adjourn for the Summer Recess.

Mr. Driberg

Apart from the catering arrangements, I note that one Committee room is booked for a small meeting and a Press conference on Friday morning of next week. Will that have to be cancelled?

Mr. Prior

I can not give the hon. Gentleman an off-the-cuff answer. We shall look into it and let him know whether we can arrange for a Committee room to be available.

Mr. Maclennan

Does the Leader of the House recognise that there is widespread support on this side for the points made by the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler) about foreign affairs? I taxed the patience of the House and Mr. Speaker in the foreign affairs debate by expatiating on this subject. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that increasing the frequency of debates is not necessarily the whole answer, and that study in depth and opportunity to examine Ministers closely on policies is more to the point?

Mr. Prior

I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said. I would like to see shorter debates with shorter speeches, and, perhaps, greater attendance in the Chamber, too.

Mr. McMaster

In view of the importance of maintaining the political initiative in Northern Ireland, what arrangements is my right hon. Friend making for the early recall of Parliament, if it is necessary, particularly at short notice, during the recess should an Executive be formed during August or September?

Mr. Prior

I have already given an undertaking that nothing should stand in the way of the recall of Parliament if it is needed for an order to bring the Executive into operation. I hope that in any other event the affairs of Northern Ireland will be conducted so peacefully that there will be no need for a recall.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Home Secretary will make a statement before the recess on the case of the 36 illegal immigrants he mentioned in the debate on immigration so that we shall at least be able to discuss the matter before the House rises?

Mr. Prior

I will consult my right hon. Friend about that and if necessary get in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Crouch

I have hesitated to raise this matter before with my right hon. Friend because I am not even sure that it does not involve a matter of privilege. But is he aware that I am finding it increasingly difficult to get into the House from Old Palace Yard? Could he give consideration to the facilities of the House by the erection of a bridge over St. Margaret's Street. I am increasingly being attacked by juggernauts not only in my constituency but in access to this House. I hope that my right hon. Friend will realise that this is not a question for the silly season. I mean it seriously.

Mr. Prior

I am sorry that my hon. Friend is having such trouble, but I must tell him that it would be a very expensive operation to erect a bridge. It is not that I do not recognise that there is some inconvenience. This is one of the reasons why I feel that a new building is necessary, and I think that that is the long-term answer. I am not keen to see the Government spending a lot of money on a short-term solution when we intend to spend a lot of money in order to provide a long-term building.