HC Deb 14 June 1973 vol 857 cc1704-13
Mr. Harold Wilson

Will the center hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House please 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 18TH JUNE—Progress on the Report stage of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.

TUESDAY 19TH JUNE—Until about 5 o'clock, Third Reading of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 20TH JUNE—Progress in Committee on the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill.

Thereafter, completion of the remaining stages of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.

THURSDAY 21ST JUNE—Until 7 o'clock, motion relating to the Northern Ireland Assembly (Election) Order, followed by further progress in Committee on the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill.

FRIDAY 22ND JUNE——Remaining stages of the National Insurance and Supplementary Benefits Bill

Second Reading of the International Cocoa Agreement Bill.

Remaining stages of the Guardianship Bill [Lords].

MONDAY 25TH JUNE—Until 7 o'clock, consideration of Private Members' Motions.

Afterwards, a debate on the new parliamentary building.

Motion on the Medicines (Feeding Stuffs Additives) Order.

Mr. Wilson

Is it not extraordinary that no provision is made in next week's business for Supply Days? Is the center hon. Gentleman aware that in the few remaining weeks before the normal date for the rising of the House the Government will have to find, in the ordinary course of events, eight Supply Days, including those devoted by agreement to debates on Select Committee reports? I emphasise that it amounts to a total of eight Supply Days between now and the recess. Furthermore, because of the great and unprecedented generosity of the Opposition two-and-a-half Supply days remain to be carried over from last Session, and we have a center to take back that time. Therefore, will he please give us back our ten-and-a-half days?

Secondly, will the center hon. Gentleman say how soon he expects to be able to have a foreign affairs debate in Government time since such a debate is long overdue? Is he aware that if the Government provide a day's debate on this subject, we shall be prepared to offer a Supply Day to make it a two-day debate because of the problems involving foreign and Commonwealth matters and the problems of international drought and famine which now face the world? Thirdly, when can we expect a statement and a debate on the Younger Report on privacy and all the related matters—including, for example, a matter which has been in the hands of the Government for nine months; namely, the report of the Royal Statistical Society and the Computer Society about protection and privacy under the census? Fourthly, when does he intend to allow the House to debate the Hardman Report on dispersal, which is causing great concern to hon. Members in all parts of the House as well as to people throughout the country?

Mr. Prior

On the subject of Supply Days, I recognise that next week we have not allowed for a Supply day. There are eight more to come, and I assure the center hon. Gentleman that after next week there will be one every week and in some weeks there will be two. I have had the position checked and the situation is about average for this time of the year. We should have had 20 or so Supply Days, and that is what we have had so far this year.

On the question of the Younger Report, I have not an announcement to make in terms of next week's business, but I very much hope that we shall be able to fit it in soon. I hope that we shall debate the Franks Report in the week after next and the Younger Report shortly afterwards. I hope that we shall be able to deal with the census matter at the same time as we discuss Younger.

In regard to the Hardman Report, I must point out that it has only just been published. Many representations will have to be made by hon. Members and by outside bodies interested in this topic. The Government will wish to consider those representations, and I know that my center hon. Friends are prepared to receive deputations and representations from hon. Members in all parts of the House. After that has happened, we shall have to find time for a debate.

I accept what the center hon. Gentleman said about a foreign affairs debate, and I appreciate that there are those who would like the debate to be held soon. I should like to explore how quickly this will happen, but it cannot be next week and there are certain difficulties about the week after.

Mr. Cormack

I should like to express my pleasure at the fact that at long last we shall debate the new parliamentary building. Could my center hon. Friend make sure that the debate will last until 11.30 because a debate from 7 o'clock to 10 o'clock will not be long enough to allow hon. Members to express their feelings on this matter?

Mr. Prior

Hon. Members have had one opportunity already to express their feelings on the new parliamentary building. I hope that this time they will express their feelings and come to a decision.

Mr. Ford

Will the Leader of the House undertake not to find time for a debate on the Green Paper on the control of firearms until such time as adequate supplies of that document have been made available to the general public and the people concerned have had an opportunity to make reasoned representations to the Home Office?

Mr. Prior

Judging by my contacts with my constituents, they certainly seem to have got hold of copies of the document to which the hon. Gentleman refers because they are making representations at this stage. However, I take note of his point. I must add that there cannot be an early debate on this question.

Mr. Powell

Is my center hon. Friend yet able to say when he expects to find time for the House to consider two matters which require to be dealt with by the end of July? I refer, first, to the stance to be adopted by the European Community in the forthcoming GATT negotiations, and, secondly, to the outstanding EEC directive on driving licences and kindred matters.

Mr. Prior

On the subject of driving licences, I have given an undertaking that the matter will be debated before it is raised in the Community. I have an assurance that, although there may be a meeting of Ministers of Transport in the Council of Ministers this month, that subject will not be among those raised, so that there will still be time for a debate. As for a debate on future arrangements in the EEC in relation to GATT, I should like to consider further whether this should form part of our two-day foreign affairs debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—or whether we should have additional time for it.

Mr. C. Pannell

The House is entitled to know what the Government intend to do on the question of the new parliamentary building. Will the procedure involve a motion tabled by the Leader of the House, or will there be a completely free vote of the House?

Mr. Prior

There will be a completely free vote of the House. The Government, through the Chancellor of the Exchequer, have made clear their view about the availability of finance for an early start of the building.

Mrs. Knight

Has my center hon. Friend noticed Motion No. 345 concerning the need to stop encouraging persons to remain unemployed? Is he aware that this problem should be dealt with extremely urgently since the shortage of labour is now serious in many parts of the West and East Midlands? Is it not the height of absurdity to pay men to stay at home when they are needed in industry? Will he consider giving time to debate this urgent problem soon?

[That this House, recognising that the exemption of short-term benefits from taxation has caused a vast field of anomalies whereby nearly all married persons earning up to £35 per week are better off out of work for an average of 12 weeks per year, and has also resulted in an estimated loss of revenue of between £150 million and £300 million per year, calls on Her Majesty's Government to make all state benefits taxable in order generally to restore incentive to work and also to remove injustice both to those who work regularly and to pensioners whose old age pensions, although much smaller, are in all cases taxable.]

Mr. Prior

I recognise that this is an important point, and I shall draw the attention of my center hon. Friend to the motion, but I cannot at present see any opportunity for an early debate. I still do not believe that the withholding of PAYE would necessarily mean that we would solve this problem, but I shall convey my hon. Friend's remarks to my center hon. Friend.

Mr. David Steel

Will the center hon. Gentleman confirm that he was displaying his well-known sense of humour when he said that he expects to complete the remaining stages of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill on Tuesday night? Is it not the case that some time out of that two days is to be devoted to the Third Reading of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill, and is it not further the case that the Government have tabled 200 amendments to the Scottish Bill and that we do not know how many other amendments will be tackled by the Opposition and back benchers because we have no printed list? Will the center hon. Gentleman remember what his center hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said in Committee on the Bill; namely, that it was his intention to press strongly for adequate time for the Report stage and I have no reason to doubt that I shall get it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, First Scottish Standing Committee, 25th January 1973; c. 64.] Why has the Secretary of State not been given that extra time?

Mr. Prior

I think that a period of two days is adequate. I appreciate that we have by agreement taken one-and-a-half hours on Tuesday for discussion of another Bill, but I trust that the Scots will deal with these matters in the expeditious way we hope they always do.

Mr. Jeffery Archer

Will my center hon. Friend consider having a debate on fisheries? We have had debates on both food and agriculture, two of the subjects for which my center hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible, but we have not yet had a debate on fisheries, including the Icelandic dispute.

Mr. Prior

There is a Private Members' motion about the Icelandic fisheries which will come before the House on Monday week. As for other aspects of fisheries, certain orders become due for renewing in July, and they should provide an opportunity for debate.

Mr. Ewing

Was Tuesday the only day considered for discussing the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill which was taken off last night? What reason can be given for choosing Tuesday as opposed to, say, Wednesday or Thursday? Does the center hon. Gentleman now accept the almost impertinent observation of Sir Henry Hardman that in legislative terms Scotland and Wales are irrelevant?

Mr. Prior

This was done to meet the convenience of the House. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should take such a jaundiced view about it.

Sir T. Beamish

Is my center hon. Friend aware that hon. Members who represent East Sussex constituencies are anxious to see the Ashdown Forest Bill on the statute book? Does he hope to find time for this in the near future?

Mr. Skinner

Take it to Strasbourg.

Mr. Prior

Not at the moment, but I should like to talk to my hon. and gallant Friend about it and make further inquiries.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is now exactly two years since we last had the opportunity in this House to debate agriculture? Is his reluctance to hold such a debate conditioned in any way by the knowledge that there is still agonising uncertainty about the future of marketing boards and the functions and powers that they will have?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. On the whole, I think that if the hon. Gentleman consults his farming constituents he will find that they would welcome a debate so that he could pay tribute to the Government's agricultural policy.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Can my center hon. Friend say how soon we may expect to have a debate on the extremely valuable reports of the Procedure Committee? Is he aware that there is a widespread feeling, in the face of legislative pressure which has persisted for several years, that our procedure is rather like a model T on a motorway—quaint and intriguing to passers-by but hazardous to its occupants?

Mr. Prior

We have had a number of debates on procedure in the past few months. I recognise that there are some Procedure Committee reports which have not been properly examined by the House and which might be considered. We shall not have much time between now and the Summer Recess. But a number of hon. Members have given me their views to the effect that we should look again at some of the Procedure Committee reports and perhaps take action on them.

Mr. Michael Foot

Will the Leader of the House take note of the fact that it would be unsatisfactory for us to have the debate on the Government's attitude towards the GATT negotiations submerged in a general foreign affairs debate, especially in view of the large numbers of other topics which have to be raised in that debate? Will he take account of the fact that the Government ought to provide time before the end of July for two debates on which there should also be votes—the first on the Government's attitude towards these negotiations of major importance and the second on the Government's attitude towards regional policy, which is of such paramount importance? Surely this House should retain the center to vote on matters of this kind?

Mr. Prior

I have taken note of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Is my center hon. Friend aware of the concern in Scotland about the implications of the Hardman Report? Will there be a debate on the subject this month in which hon. Members can have an opportunity to express their views? Secondly, can my center hon. Friend say when we are likely to have a statement on railway policy?

Mr. Prior

Certainly I cannot give an undertaking about a debate this month on the Hardman Report. As for the railway report, my center hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries will be making a statement in due course, but he has only just received the report from the Chairman of the Railways Board and it is still being considered.

Mr. Urwin

With regard to the Government policy on the dispersal of Civil Service jobs and the references to the Hardman Report, may I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that for the intermediate and development areas the Hardman Report is a non-event? The right hon. Gentleman has given certain assurances. Can he say what the time scale will be for the receipt of representations on the report, and will he ensure that there will be no ministerial decision on office dispersal unless and until there has been a full debate in this House on the Hardman Report?

Mr. Prior

I accept that there must be a full debate on Hardman in this House. But I cannot go further than I have already gone.

Mr. Hastings

Reverting to a previous question on the Green Paper concerning the control of firearms, does my right hon. Friend realise that there is a serious problem here? It takes about eight weeks to obtain a copy by post from High Holborn, and there are no copies available in Bristol or Cardiff. I do not know about the position at other Stationery Office branches in the provinces. Is he aware that hundreds of thousands of people are worried about this? The consultative period is inadequate. Will he urge upon the Home Secretary that to extend it to 31st July would be no longer than necessary?

Mr. Prior

I shall convey those views to my right hon. Friend. The Government wish to give a reasonable time in a matter which is worrying a great many individual citizens. I shall look into the reason why the Green Paper is not having a quicker and wider circulation, and I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary whether he can extend the time for consultation.

Mr. Dell

Will there be a statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on those aspects of the Public Accounts Committee's Report on North Sea oil which concern his Department and a debate before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Prior

We must await the Government's reply to the report, which we shall make as quickly as possible. I shall make further inquiries about it. I doubt whether there will be time for a debate. However, there are the usual autumn opportunities for debating PAC reports.

Mr. Evelyn king

Does my right hon. Friend intend to make a statement on the industrial dispute which is still preventing parliamentary papers from reaching this House, without which we cannot do our work adequately? Is he aware that some of those on strike are already earning more than £90 a week? I think that is a fact. Will he consider not only this dispute but, with the Services Committee, the long-term future, as there have been innumerable and increasing disputes in past years?

Mr. Prior

I apologise for the inconvenience that this dispute is causing. Continuous negotiations have been taking place between the HMSO management and NGA national and local officials. Every endeavour is being made to solve the dispute. I confirm that normal earnings, which are in line with those in the trade, are as high as £90 for night work and £75 for day work.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

When shall we have an urgent debate on the position of illegal immigrants, in view of the fact that the issue was never debated during the passage of the Bill through the House as a result of the Government's deliberate deception?

Mr. Prior

I cannot find the time in the next few weeks.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer

When shall we have the same chance as readers of the Daily Express to discuss the report on pop festivals? May we have that chance, so that young people can enjoy pop festivals within the limits of safety?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend has either answered a Question on this matter or will be answering one within the next day or so. I gather that a Press conference is to be held shortly. I know that there is great interest in this matter, but I cannot find time for an early debate.

Mr. Ross

On the subject of Monday's and Tuesday's business, did the Leader of the House consider the special difficulties of Scottish Members? He will be aware that we have not yet got the bound volume of the Committee's proceedings, that only this morning did we get the first sight of the Government's own amendments, and that we have no other amendments at all? Will he look again at the adequacy of the time allotted? It was bad enough before, but it is quite unfair to suggest that we should lose at least one-and-a-half-hours and still complete our consideration of this important measure.

Lastly, will the right hon. Gentleman look at a certain section of the Hardman Report and think again about the appropriateness of meeting the convenience of this House concerning the reorganisation of the National Health Service in England by not sitting after half-past eleven and then suggesting in a cavalier manner that, with a Bill of this importance for Scotland, it did not matter when we met and finished?

Mr. Prior

I have not said anything about it not mattering when Scottish business is discussed in this House. The right hon. Gentleman has no right to complain at all, bearing in mind the hours that he has kept hon. Members in the House when discussing various matters. I recall that when I first became a Member the right hon. Gentleman kept us up night after night on a Bill dealing with employment, and he has done so time and time again. It is only right to see how we get on. We have a lot of other business on other days which hon. Members on both sides want to see go through. I thought that the two days allocated for the Local Government (Scotland) Bill would be sufficient. If the right hon. Gentleman can be persuaded to keep his speeches to a reasonable length we can get through it.