HC Deb 15 March 1973 vol 852 cc1487-96
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business of the House for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)

The business for next week will be as follows: —

MONDAY 19TH MARCH—Conclusion of the Debate on the Statement on the Defence Estimates.

Motions on the Representation of the People, Parliamentary Constituencies Orders, on the Calf Subsidies (Variation) Scheme and the Fatstock (Guarantee Payments) Order.

Motion relating to the Agricultural Policy (Termination of Guarantee Payments) (Fat Cattle and Rye) Order.

TUESDAY 20TH MARCH—Supply (12th allotted day). The Question will be put immediately on all outstanding Votes.

There will be debates on Rates until about Seven o'clock, and afterwards on the London Motor Box. Both will arise on Opposition motions.

Motions on the Value Added Tax Orders.

WEDNESDAY 21ST MARCH—Supply (13th allotted day). There will be a debate on the Navy which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 22ND MARCH—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No.3) Bill.

FRIDAY 23RD MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 26TH MARCH—Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill.

Second Reading of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill (Lords), which will be concluded on Tuesday, 27th March.

Mr. Wilson

When does the right hon. Gentleman intend to arrange a debate on the recent White Paper on broadcasting, not only on the question raised today at Question Time but on the whole, much wider issues as well? Secondly, can he undertake to arrange an early debate in Government time on his statement earlier this week on how the House is expected to handle business in the context of the European Economic Community?

Mr. Prior

On the first question which the right hon. Gentleman asks, I accept that there is wide interest in this matter. I cannot promise a debate in the weeks immediately ahead but there are days for discussion of reports of Select Committees. It would probably be the wish of the House that we should have a debate on this important subject, and perhaps we can use one of those dates for it. On the second question the right hon. Gentleman raised, I would like to apologise to the House for thinking that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) was talking on the first recommendation of the Select Committee on European Community Secondary Legislation when in fact he was talking on the second. I recognise that there is great interest in the House on the subject. I am very pushed for time in the House at the moment but I fully accept that the House will wish to have a debate on this subject.

Mr. du Cann

Will my right hon. Friend be good enough next week to pay particular attention to a matter which, as he will know, is causing some concern now to his hon. and right hon. Friends and, I believe, to the House as a whole? Will he be kind enough, Mr. Speaker, to give you every assistance, through the usual channels, or whatever may be the proper and most appropriate method, to ensure that we get established and operating at the earliest possible moment the Speaker's Conference on Reform of Electoral Law?

Mr. Prior

In answer to my right hon. Friend, I understand that it is your intention, Mr. Speaker, to make a statement tomorrow.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government, having denied justice to the hospital ancillary workers, are now contemplating taking a six weeks extra Summer Recess in this Session of Parliament in order that the Prime Minister may enjoy the sunshine and spend some of his £6 per week tax gift?

Mr. Prior

I hope some of the hon. Gentlemen's neighbours from neighbouring constituencies will give him the right answer to that question.

Sir D. Renton

As we are to have the Second Reading of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill starting on Monday week, and as my right hon. Friend has promised that we shall have the Report of the Population Panel well before then, will he say when he proposes to let us have it?

Mr. Prior

I cannot be absolutely certain of the day next week when it will be published because there are certain printing problems at the moment, but it certainly will be next week.

Mr. Stoddart

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Early Day Motion No. 236 which has been signed by 106 hon. Members and expresses disgust at the low wages paid by British firms in South Africa to African workers? May I ask him whether he agrees that this is an appalling situation? Does he also agree that this issue has pricked the conscience of the British nation? Since I believe—and I am sure he does, also—that this House should be the expression of that conscience, would he therefore agree to provide time for an early debate on the subject?

[That this House notes with disgust the low wages paid by British firms in South Africa to their African employees and, whilst disapproving any investment which helps to underpin an apartheid regime, believes that the minimum target of directors and shareholders of these companies should be the payment to these workers of wages which will enable them to lead decent and dignified lives.]

Mr. Prior

I cannot promise early time for a debate but I will, of course, see that my right hon. Friend has his attention drawn to the Motion.

Dame Irene Ward

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that Ranger Trawlers, based on North Shields, is reported to have been sold to British Trawler United Companies in Hull and that the trawlers are to be transferred from North Shields to Hull, which would of course be disastrous to the port of North Shields? I have put down a Question to the appropriate Ministry, that is the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for Monday. May I ask my right hon. Friend, who is also interested in fishing, whether he would kindly ask my right hon. Friend whether he will be in the House on Monday to answer the Question, because of the anxiety which is being caused in North Shields by this reported sale of Ranger Trawlers, since it is very important and could be disastrous to many in my part of the world?

Mr. Prior

I will certainly look at the point raised by my hon. Friend. This is all news to me, but I will certainly report it to my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and see whether he can give my hon. Friend an answer on Monday.

Mr. Wilson

May I ask another question on which obviously one must weigh one's words very carefully? It is expected that in the near future—and I am not going to ask the right hon. Gentleman when and I hope he will not tell the House when—there may be a White Paper on Northern Ireland. Would he do his best to ensure that no prior information is given about that in relation to the timing or the dating, for obvious reasons, here and in Northern Ireland?

Second, would he consider that, contrary to the usual practice—a request which one dislikes making—there should be no prior dissemination of the text of that statement until it is made public, and that it should be treated, in fact, like a Budget Statement? Would he take it from this side of the House that we are very anxious that there should be no instant comment—we intend to make none—and that it would be very harmful here and in Northern Ireland if there were too rapid a response to what is going to be a very important White Paper, whatever we may ultimately think of what is in it?

Will he do his best—although I know he has no power in the matter—to ensure that all these requirements are met, so that everyone in Northern Ireland has plenty of time to consider the matter and that no one takes a premature position, making it harder not only to maintain peace there but to secure an outcome to the White Paper based on reconciliation?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I am sure his views express the wishes of the whole House and I will see that my right hon. Friend is made well aware of them. I am certain that it would be in the interests of the whole House if no instant reaction were made to the White Paper, whenever it is announced. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said.

Mr. Kilfedder

Following what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, with which I agree completely, could my right hon. Friend in some way appeal—or appeal through his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—to the news media not to ask politicians or indeed any non-elected people to make an instant response on the White Paper for a period of, say, 12 hours?

Mr. Prior

I believe that what my hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman have said will be noted by the Press and by all media of communication who will want to share in what has been said in this House this afternoon.

Mr. Wilson

It is a fact that some of us have already been asked for instant comments on the media. We all understand their position but this is not just a matter of news value but a matter in which people's lives and an ultimate solution matter much more. I put to the right hon. Gentleman the question—and if he cannot answer it I will understand but perhaps he will consider it and take it to heart—that there should also be no final revised version at all of this issued to the Press, because, while everyone trusts the integrity of the Press in these matters, we cannot take any risks whatsoever in this situation.

Mr. Prior

I cannot answer the last part of the question without notice but I have noted the points the right hon. Gentleman makes, and on grounds of security they are very sensible.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to Early Day Motion No. 238, signed by some 70 hon. Members, in which his colleague and right hon. Friend, the Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, is heavily criticised for his failure to pay attention to the unanimous report of a Select Committee of this House in regard to the extension of the franchise of the IBA and for that matter of the BBC, and will he use his best endeavours to make his right hon. Friend see a little sense in this matter?

Mr. Prior

I certainly think this a subject which the House will wish to debate and I have given the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend an assurance about that this afternoon. I cannot promise a debate very quickly.

[That this House, mindful of the unanimous Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries recommending that a thoroughgoing public inquiry be instituted before tile extension of the Independent Broadcasting Authority's Charter beyond 1976, deeply regrets the action of the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in rejecting this recommendation; further, expresses its condemnation of the Minister's action in giving his reply to the Select Committee's Report in the course of an answer to a routine question by a honourable Member, rather than by the more normal method of a statement to the House; and finally, calls upon the Government to arrange an immediate debate and to take no action in this matter until Parliament has reached a decision.]

Mr. Adley

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that on the Order Paper every day now for more than a week there has been a Motion for an Instruction in my name to the Select Committee on the Hybrid Bill at present studying Maplin Airport? Would my right hon. Friend accept that the object of the Government in setting up the Hybrid Bill procedure was to allow objections to be heard? Is he aware that Members serving on this Select Committee are anxious to discuss the Instruction on the Order Paper? Is he further aware that it is within his power to instruct the House to accept this Instruction and may I ask his assistance in doing so?

Mr. Prior

I am aware of the notice put on the Order Paper by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley). Equally, he will be aware that I have already had some discussions with him on the subject. The House has already debated this matter on Second Reading. It is now before a Select Committee. It will come back to this House for other stages. I do not think that the Select Committee needs any further instructions than those it has already.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made in the House next week and that if possible we have a debate on regional economic policy related specifically to the problem of regional employment premium, in view of the important statement by the CBI and the change of view whereby apparently there is now unanimity that regional employment premium should be continued and the widespread concern in the North-East and elsewhere about it?

Mr. Prior

I cannot promise early time for a debate on this subject, but the hon. Gentleman will have heard the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister earlier in the week.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Did I understand my right hon. Friend to say that we should not be discussing the Lords amendments to the Counter-Inflation Bill next week? In any event, before we discuss those amendments, will my right hon. Friend ensure that ample copies of the relevant editions of House of Lords HANSARD are available to this House if the printing strike continues? Is my right hon. Friend aware that at present it is impossible to obtain copies?

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend did not hear me say anything about the Lords amendments. It would be wrong for me to make any statement about Lords amendments before the Lords have completed their discussions on the Bill. But, if necessary, there will be an opportunity to make a further statement about the matter.

As for my hon. Friend's second point, we shall do our best to see that there are copies of the editions of the Lords HANSARD available. Unfortunately we have some industrial trouble at the moment. But I shall see what can be done.

Mr. Shore

I welcome what the Leader of the House said earlier about arranging a debate on the Interim Report of the Select Committee on European Community Secondary Legislation in the reasonably near future. May I press the urgency of the matter, especially in view of the fact that during the past week, when the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been busy dismantling the whole of our post-war system of deficiency payments for agriculture, it has become necessary to have a statement from the right hon. Gentleman when he returns from Brussels? Will the Leader of the House arrange for this next week?

Mr. Prior

The Opposition are taking advantage of opportunities to discuss the problem this coming Monday evening. As for a debate on the First Report from the Select Committee. I cannot promise that very shortly, as I think the right hon. Gentleman knows.

Sir Robin Turton

As there is to be a debate on Monday on the removal of beef from the deficiency payments system, surely it is important that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should make his belated statement of the February Price Review before that debate takes place.

Mr. Prior

I am not certain that I agree that it has any direct relevance. But my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be making a statement next Wednesday. He will also be publishing a White Paper on that day, though that will not itself deal with what are known as the "determinations".

Mr. Taverne

When will the Leader of the House announce, perhaps in conjunction with his opposite numbers, a review of the system for moving Writs in by-elections by which not everyone on the Opposition side of the House is bound by the convention whereby the party which last held a seat can delay the moving of the Writ, not according to the interests of the constituency but according to the electoral advantage of the party, however misguided?

Mr. Prior

I should like to consider what the hon. and learned Gentleman said. All I can say now is that a delay in moving a certain by-election Writ did not seem to do him any harm.

Mr. John Wells

Will my right hon. Friend say when the whole House, in Government time, will have an opportunity to debate the new parliamentary building with a view to coming to an adverse decision?

Mr. Prior

Certainly it is not for me to say what decision this House will reach. But I recognise fully the need for a debate in Government time, and I intend to arrange it as soon as possible because I think that the House should take a decision on this important issue.

Mr. Marks

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Early Day Motion No. 226 in the name of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill) and 78 other Conservative Members? It asks my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to relieve my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) of his post as Shadow spokesman on the grounds that he gave inaccurate information to the House on education expansion, whereas it is now shown by the Press and in answers to parliamentary Questions that my hon. Friend was accurate in what he said and that the Secretary of State was inaccurate. Will the Leader of the House ask his hon. Friends to withdraw their motion, or give time for it to be debated, or ask the Prime Minister to dismiss the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she returns from South Africa?

[That this House congratulates the Secretary of State for Education and Science on her White Paper on Education and her Under-Secretary's accurate presentation of its proposals to the House, regrets that the Labour spokesman on education, the hon. Member for Spark brook, misled the House during the debate on the Government White Paper on Education on 19th February by giving inaccurate information on statistics on at least three separate occasions; treats as ludicrous the accusation that the Times Educational Supplement is under the control of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State; and, in default of an early correction from the hon. Member for Sparkbrook for his errors and an apology to the House, calls upon the Leader of the Opposition to relieve the hon. Member of his post as shadow spokesman on education and find a substitute who will treat the subject seriously.]

Mr. Prior

I am afraid that I cannot find further opportunities for debate. We have had two recent debates on education. I should have thought that the Opposition had taken enough of a bashing from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not to wish for another.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on. Point of order, Mr. Cunningham.