HC Deb 21 June 1973 vol 858 cc869-81
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 25TH JUNE—Until seven o'clock, consideration of Private Members' Motions. Afterwards, a debate on Motions on a New Parliamentary Building.

Motion on the Medicines (Feeding Stuffs Additives) Order.

TUESDAY 26TH JUNE—Supply (22nd allotted day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate on United Kingdom Regional Policy And The Common Market, and afterwards on The Position Of Immigrants Following The House Of Lords' Decision. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

The House will be asked to agree that consideration of the Opposed Private Business named by the Chairman of Ways and Means for seven o'clock should be postponed until ten o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 27TH JUNE—A debate on Foreign Affairs, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion relating to the Butter Subsidy Regulations.

THURSDAY 28TH JUNE—Supply (23rd allotted day). Conclusion of the debate on Foreign Affairs, when the appropriate Vote will be before the House.

Remaining stages of the International Cocoa Agreement Bill.

FRIDAY 29TH JUNE—A debate on a motion to take note of the Report of the Franks Committee on the Official Secrets Act 1911 (Command No. 5104).

MONDAY 2ND JULY—Supply (24th allotted day). Debate on a topic to be announced.

Mr. Wilson

We welcome that after so many months the Franks Report is to be debated in the House, even though, from what the Prime Minister said, it will be without any clear lead from the Government about their reaction to it. [Interruption.] It could have been debated at any time and the views of the House could have been made known, but now nine months have passed with no Government action. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when he expects us to be able to debate the Younger Report and also when he expects to publish the reports of the Computer Society and the Royal Statistical Society on certain privacy aspects of the census? They have been held up for some eight or nine months. When can we expect them?

I turn to the Poulson disclosures. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that this unfortunate matter came up a year ago and I said that the country would not be satisfied without a full and open inquiry into the Poulson disclosures. Is he aware that in the course of the last two or three days there have been issued by Scotland Yard most contradictory statements? There has been a series of apparently authoritative but not always comprehensible Written Answers by the Attorney-General. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Attorney-General to make a statement in the House about the exact problems of delay—if there is a delay—and about how long it will be before these matters are brought to justice? Clearly, the House felt that it would not be possible to have a tribunal of inquiry until any cases involving prosecution had been proceeded with, but may we have some idea of how long that will take?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said yesterday that in a few days the police would submit to the Director of Public Prosecutions a report on one part of their investigations, and a second report is expected within a month. But I will convey the right hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. and learned Friend and ask him whether there is any further information he can give to the House at the earliest possible moment.

I turn next to the right hon. Gentleman's question about Younger and the report of the Computer Society. I very much hope that we shall be able to fit in a debate towards the middle of next month and that all the necessary information will be available to the House before that debate.

It has been the request of the House that the Government should have an open mind for the Franks debate, which is to be held tomorrow week, rather along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) this afternoon.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

When will the House be acquainted with the Government's thinking on company law legislation? Can my right hon. Friend say what form it will take, whether it will be consultative, and whether it will take into account the implications of our treaty obligations in respect of the approximation of laws within the European Economic Community?

Mr. Prior

There will be a White Paper on certain Government proposals and there is a possibility of a Green Paper a little later on some other proposals, chiefly those which bear on the Common Market implications.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that considerable difficulty has been experienced by the majority of members of the Welsh Grand Committee in getting that Committee to debate subjects that are reasonably required by about four-fifths of its members? In view of that, will the right lion. Gentleman consider setting up a Standing Committee for Welsh affairs, thus enabling Ministers to be questioned in depth, and avoiding the sonorous reading of the Civil Service typescripts which pass for ministerial speeches so often in the Welsh Grand Committee?

Mr. Prior

I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman said, but I cannot give him an undertaking for next week.

Mr. Thorpe

As there appears to be agreement on both sides of the House that investigations into the affairs of Mr. Poulson and his associated companies should be detailed, swift and thorough, and as there is growing public disquiet on all three counts, has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to Motion No. 368, in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends? If we cannot be given an indication of when time will be allowed for a debate, may we at least expect a statement next week from the responsible Minister on the Government's intentions in the matter?

[That this House, dismayed at the continuing allegations and public unease concerning the involvement of John T. Poulson and his associated companies in the local and national politics and administration of this country; recognising that bankruptcy proceedings are primarily concerned with recovery of debts for the creditors, that police inquiries will inevitably be limited in scope and protracted, and that the generally high integrity of public life may now be threatened by practices which may not even infringe the existing law; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to set up a Tribunal of Inquiry to investigate urgently the financial connections between local and public authorities and John T. Poulson and his associated companies, and to make recommendations as to whether the public interest in planning decisions and the award of public contracts needs extra safeguards against improper influences.]

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister considers it desirable that nothing should be done or said which might impede proper consideration of proceedings and a fair hearing for anyone who might be involved. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a tribunal of inquiry, which would as a practical matter need to be given specific terms of reference, is not necessarily the best way of obtaining general recommendations about the integrity of public life. However, no action which the Director of Public Prosecutions took would preclude any later form of inquiry should that be desirable. That was exactly what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last year when he made the announcement to the House.

Mr. Biffen

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he will be publishing a Green Paper on the subject of two-tier boards and the related topic of worker participation, and that it will be available to the House so that it may be debated here before the Council of Ministers next addresses itself to the draft Fifth Directive?

Mr. Prior

I cannot give a specific undertaking about the timing of the Green Paper. I can confirm that in due course a Green Paper or a consultative document on the question asked by my hon. Friend will be published.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Will the motion to take at ten o'clock on Tuesday the business set down for seven o'clock by the Chairman of Ways and Means be a debatable motion?

Mr. Prior

I presume that strictly it would be debatable, but I very much hope that, in view of the business before the House, the House will proceed quickly with any debate so that we can get on to other business.

Mr. Fowler

Two reports in the past month, one from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the other from the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, have drawn attention to the fact that violent crime in this country is rising. Is not that a matter of grave public concern? Can we expect to have a debate upon crime?

Mr. Prior

I very much agree with what my hon. Friend said. I am still hopeful that it will be possible to arrange a debate before the Summer Recess, but we have a great deal of work to get through, and I should not like to give a definite undertaking as early as this.

Mr. Ashley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of an impressive dossier of evidence of brutality against some wives by their husbands, including pregnant wives, so that the children are born deformed or disabled, and further evidence of police and social service authorities' indifference, not wanting to intervene in what they euphemistically call family relations? Is there any prospect of a debate on the subject next week?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. I agree that it is an important matter, but I cannot foresee time for a debate in Government time. It might be a suitable subject for an Adjournment debate or a debate on the Adjournment motion at the end of the session.

Mr. Marten

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is eight or nine weeks since he first suggested that we should debate the raising of the age for obtaining driving licences from 17 to 18? As he found time a couple of weeks ago to debate a motion to do with the European Parliament and our delegates receiving better facilities, such as cars, expenses and so on, can he not now find time to debate the driving licence question?

Secondly, can he remind himself that a mass of draft European legislation is going through the pipeline and that none of it has been given time for debate in this Parliament? We must face up to the problem and get round to dealing with it.

Mr. Prior

The House is awaiting a second report from the Select Committee which has been set up to examine the latter question.

I should have thought that my hon. Friend would welcome the fact that the driving licence question has gone rather cold for the moment. I have given him an undertaking that it would be debated before it became very live again.

Mr. Harold Walker

I am sorry that the Leader of the House thinks it necessary for me to keep chivvying him month after month about the Robens Report. There is a strong feeling in many parts of the House that we have been treated most shabbily by the Government on the issue. It is nearly 12 months since the report was published, and the House has not had an adequate opportunity to debate either the report or the inadequate statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Employment a few weeks ago. Shall we have a chance to debate it before the Recess or before the Government submit legislation without otherwise having heard the word of the House?

Mr. Prior

I am sorry the hon. Gentleman takes that point of view, because I thought that the recent debate, albeit on a Private Member's motion, gave an opportunity for the Government and hon. Members on both sides to state their views. J am short of time at present, but I shall reconsider what the hon. Gentleman said.

Dame Irene Ward

Will my right hon. Friend kindly bear in mind that the shipbuilders and shipping people will want a debate on the Booz-Allen Report, and that the last thing they want is for the Government to come to their decision when the House is in Recess? Whatever the Government have in view relating to the report, we think it most important that we should know, so that we can say what we want to say on behalf of the shipbuilders and shipping people.

Mr. Prior

I take note of what my hon. Friend said. However, we have not had the report all that long. I think that it would be a good idea for the report to be properly discussed and for the views of the shipbuilding industry to be made known before we have a debate in the House.

Mr. Foot

In view of the extraordinary reply which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), will he recognise that he has no excuse whatsoever for not offering a debate on these matters, and that he cannot use as an excuse the failure of the committee to issue a final report? Will he recognise that it is precisely for that reason that the committee issued an interim report which encouraged, invited and urged the Government to provide facilities for exactly such debates as those for which the hon. Member for Banbury asked? Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an absolute undertaking that the Government will provide time for a debate on this matter?

Further, will he take into account that time is running out? The Opposition have provided an opportunity in their own time to discuss the regional issues which are involved although we think that the Government should have provided that time. The Opposition consider that it is the Government's responsibility to provide time to discuss the Government's attitude to the trade negotiations which are to take place between the EEC and other countries.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that it should be an absolute Government responsibility to provide time before the end of July for a full debate on the proposals for economic and monetary union in Europe? The Government have a special responsibility. The Prime Minister was suggesting last week that the House might already have had the opportunity of deciding the matter. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is not the case and that it is his responsibility to provide the time for all these matters to be discussed following the recommendations of the Select Committee, which has already reported in an interim sense?

Mr. Prior

The House will have an opportunity during the two-day debate on foreign affairs this coming week to debate sonic of the issues which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Although the negotiations between GATT and the Community are essentially trade issues, they clearly have a significance which goes well beyond trade and they need to be considered in a larger economic and political context. Therefore, I should imagine that they would be relevant to the two-day foreign affairs debate.

In addition, we shall have a half-day debate on the EEC's regional policy next week. I should have thought that many of the important issues were being discussed in the House. I have already given my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) an undertaking that in due course, and at a convenient time, we shall have a debate about the raising of the age for the issue of motor licences. I do not believe that there is any pressing need to have that debate at the moment.

Mr. Redmond

I must press my right hon. Friend once again about metrication. Does he not feel that the time has come for the Government to seek parliamentary approval of the White Paper which was published in February 1972? Does he agree that that is rather a long time to have to wait? Incidentally, will he take note that I would support the White Paper?

Mr. Prior

I find that a great encouragement to holding a debate. I must tell the House that I have been having consultations with my right hon. Friend since the matter was raised. I am hopeful that before long a statement will be made to the House.

Mr. Millan

When will the House be able to debate the Hardman Report? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in view of the wholly inadequate nature of the recommendations it would be intolerable if the report were not debated before the Government took any decisions on it?

Mr. Prior

I accept that there must be a debate on the Hardman Report. On the whole we felt that it was a wiser course for hon. Members and for outside interests, including staff associations, to be able to make their views known before the House considered the report as a whole. That remains the Government's position. I know that Scottish Opposition hon. Members have written to me about the report. I shall bear in mind what they have said.

Mr. Heffer

As the Industrial Relations Act is now under active discussion in secret and non-secret meetings, will the right hon. Gentleman allow time for a debate in the House on the future of the Industrial Relations Act? If that is done the House can discuss any amend- ments which might be coming forward rather than have amendments announced to the country during the Summer Recess.

Mr. Prior

I can see no opportunity over the next few weeks for a debate on that matter.

Mr. Whitehead

Will the right hon. Gentleman be in a position to make an early statement on a voluntary register of hon. Members' interests following the all-party discussions which have taken place? Will such a discussion be debatable? Many hon. Members feel that there is great urgency about the matter.

Mr. Prior

I must correct the hon. Gentleman on one fact. All-party discussions have not yet taken place. I think that each party has been having discussions, but we have not yet had an all-party discussion. That, I hope, will be arranged in the near future. I recognise that this is an important matter. I am not in a position to say whether there will be time for a debate.

Mr. Edward Short

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that I asked him for an all-party discussion a few weeks ago and that he asked me to defer the matter for a short while?

Mr. Prior

I confirm that.

Mr. Pavitt

Has the Leader of the House seen the excellent report which was published on Tuesday by the Department of Health and Social Security about research into deafness? As that report stems from the action of this House in passing Section 24 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, 1970 and as the chief medical officer of health has pointed out that this area of disability is one of the most unknown and one of the least taken care of by the community, will the right hon. Gentleman find time for the House to discuss the report?

Mr. Prior

It would be difficult for me to find Government time. However, there will be a number of opportunities not only for Adjournment debates but during the debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill to discuss the matter during the next few weeks. If hon. Members can initiate such a debate the Government, of course, will take part in it. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any further undertaking.

Mr. Greville Janner

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the Written Answer which I have just received which states that in the 12 months to the end of April council house starts in England and Wales were 32 per cent. fewer than in the previous 12 months? In view of that scandalous admission and the obvious implications for the less-well-off members of the community, and the publication of the Government's White Paper a fortnight ago, will the Government provide some of their own time to discuss this vital matter?

Mr. Prior

I should have thought, in view of what the hon. and learned Gentleman said, that this might well be a subject chosen for debate by the Opposition.

Mr. Crouch

Will my right hon. Friend stay in his place when his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the Civil Service makes a statement on parliamentary papers? The business for next week is liable to lose something of its savour if we cannot read about it afterwards.

Mr. Prior

I recognise the problems which the House must face as a result of the current industrial dispute. As my hon. Friend will be telling the House, we hope very much that the arrangements which we are making will be suitable and will enable the House not only to have the papers which it requires but if necessary to read about the business afterwards.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there is a vast degree of interest in the Franks Report inside and outside the House? Does he accept that it is an insult to those people that we are to have a debate on the report on a Friday? Will he reconsider the organisation of the business next week so that we can debate the Franks Report in the middle of the week and take the first day of the foreign affairs debate on Wednesday and the second day on Friday?

Mr. Prior

No, I do not think that that would be for the convenience of the House. I must make it abundantly plain that Fridays are parliamentary days of just as great importance as any other day. If we move away from that concept we shall pack up Fridays altogether, That would be a great mistake.

Mr. John Wells

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance—I revert to his answer to the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt)—that when deafness is debated we may at the same time seek to debate the Quirk Report and the kindred matters affecting speech therapy which are of a parcel and which could be conveniently debated together? Does he agree that these matters are already too long outstanding?

Mr. Prior

I recognise that it would be convenient to debate the Quirk report and deafness at the same time, but I am in difficulty about Government business. I recognise the importance of the matter and I would like to consider it further.

Mr. Stallard

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the report in today's Evening Standard about safety checks which have been ordered on 19 schools throughout Britain? Does he recognise that this is a direct result of the collapse of a school in my constituency last week and that there have been widespread demands for a public inquiry into the causes? There is growing concern, certainly throughout London, about this type of building. I understand that at least a dozen other buildings of similar structure to that which collapsed are still in operation. Will he ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will change her mind and make a statement to the House on this very serious problem?

Mr. Prior

I will speak to my right hon. Friend about it and see whether she will make a statement.

Mr. Dalyell

Since millions of people will be disappointed, should we not have had a statement from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment responsible for sport on his talks with representatives of the lawn tennis players and of the All-England Club? As chairman of the Opposition's sports group, I inform the right hon. Gentleman that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends are far from persuaded that the tennis authorities should give in to some extremely well-rewarded players, and I remind him that this opinion is expressed by some of us who have fought hard and long for better conditions for other sportsmen.

Mr. Prior

I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment saw representatives of both sides last night, but of course there is no intention by the Government to interfere in the day-to-day running of any sport. I agree that if the tournament does not take place with its full complement there will be widespread disappointment, and I still hope very much that good sense will prevail.