HC Deb 20 March 1973 vol 853 cc252-5
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)

With permission, I should like to make a short business statement.

Amendments to the Counter-Inflation Bill have been received from another place and will be brought before the House tomorrow following business already announced.

Following the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, it might be for the convenience of the House for me to say that we plan to hold a debate on Wednesday 28th March on the subject of the White Paper. I thought that perhaps the House would want to know that.

Mr. Harold Wilson

We thank the right hon. Gentleman for the second point in his announcement. Of course the Government will no doubt feel free, if the situation in Northern Ireland demands it, to postpone that debate if that is in the best interests of a satisfactory solution.

On the first part, I understand that there are a number of amendments from another place, not necessarily all of fundamental and vital importance. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many there are? Can he also confirm that there will be copies of the Lords HANSARD available to hon. Members in the rather unusual circumstances in which we have to debate these matters at this time?

Mr. Prior

Without being held to an exact number, I think there are 11 amendments. I think we had better see how we get on during the night in question.

I have been checking very carefully on the availability of papers and I am pleased to be able to say that at least 300 copies of the Lords HANSARD of the Committee stage and the Report stage are available and that 300 copies of the Lords amendments are available in the Vote Office. There are 250 copies of the Bill as introduced into the House of Lords at the moment, and a further 150 will be available by tomorrow morning. I think we can say that all papers needed are available, but I must request hon. Members to make personal application to the Vote Office for them because, if secretaries go for them, we sometimes find there are not enough copies to go round.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with a one-day debate on this great paper? Will he confirm that, when it comes to the legislation, the Committee stage will be taken on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Prior

The latter part of what my hon. Friend said relates to something a little way off, and I should like to consider it further. On the first part, I hope that we can express ourselves adequately in a day's debate, but I should like to consider that, too.

Mr. McNamara

May I come back to the point raised by the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) about a mere five and a half hour debate on a document of the utmost importance. Allowing two hours for the Front Bench speakers, and three hours for the 12 Northern Ireland Members, which would be reasonable for them to take, that leaves only half an hour for the other 500 Members who are not on the Front Bench or on the payroll vote.

Mr. Prior

This is something which the House will have to consider. [HON. MEMBERS: "For you to consider."] I am putting it in the time-honoured fashion. This is a very important matter, but we are not generally short of opportunities to debate matters relating to Northern Ireland. I am by no means saying that we should not have a longer time than I have suggested.

Mr. Wilson

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any idea when the legislation will be ready and debated? There may be an advantage in having a two-day debate on Second Reading, including a debate on the White Paper.

Mr. Prior

As the White Paper has been published only today, the legislation is still a little way off. I should like to consider further what the right hon. Gentleman said, and perhaps we can return to this on the business statement on Thursday.

Captain Orr

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the interests of the ecumenical movement, I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) who pressed for a two-day debate on the White Paper? It is very important that all those who represent Northern Ireland, as well as those who have taken an interest in it, should have an opportunity of expressing their views. The more democratic channels there are open for debate, the less chance there is of street fighting. Can my right hon. Friend say whether, on the 28th, the House will also consider the prolongation of the temporary provisions Act?

Mr. Prior

It is our intention to take the prolongation order on that same day. I noted what my hon. and gallant Friend said. Far be it from me to wish to come between him and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), and I shall have to consider this carefully.

Miss Devlin

Further to what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and bearing in mind that responsibility has been urged upon everyone, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he does not agree that it seems unfair not only to hon. Members; but also to the population of Northern Ireland, to ask them to listen to their elected representatives, to ask them to be guided by the democratic institutions, and then to impose—I choose my words carefully— what appears to be a kind of voluntary censorship, and to exercise that kind of censorship on the only means left open to the people of Northern Ireland to express their views?

As we are taking a number of matters together, and as it is some time since Northern Ireland has been discussed in this House, other than at two o'clock in the morning, is it not time that there was a two-day debate on Northern Ireland? There are a number of important matters to discuss, and it will not be possible to debate them in five-and-a-half or six hours.

Mr. Prior

The hon. Lady must not talk in terms of censorship, because that would give a totally wrong impression of everything that has happened in the House this afternoon. I recognise the points that have been made from both sides of the House, and I shall consider them carefully.

Mr. McMaster

Will my right hon. Friend consider the amount of time that it will take for all the Ulster Members to express their views on the White Paper? They are going off to consult their constituents in great depth in order to get the feeling of people there. They should all have an opportunity to express their views. Will my right hon. Friend therefore please give sympathetic consideration to the request for at least a two-day debate on the White Paper?

Mr. Prior

I have noted what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Wellbeloved

We must press the Leader of the House on this. There must be adequate time for debating the White Paper. It is not just a matter for Irish Members. The nonsense in paragraph 32 is a matter on which many British Members will want to make a contribution

Mr. Prior

I have noted the hon. Gentlemant's comments.

Mr. Ronald Bell

If we have a two-day debate on the White Paper, will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that time is not taken up with eight Front Bench speeches?

Mr. Prior

I shall look into that. Following what the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson) said, there will have to be a Second Reading of the Bill before long, and I should like to consider that in conjunction with the time that we shall make available for debating the White Paper.