HC Deb 22 March 1973 vol 853 cc660-70
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will 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, 26TH MARCH—Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill.

Second Reading of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Import Duties (General) (No. 2) Order.

TUESDAY, 27TH MARCH—Conclusion of the Second Reading of the National

Health Service Reorganisation Bill [Lords].

Motions on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Orders.

WEDNESDAY, 28TH MARCH AND THURSDAY, 29TH MARCH—Debate on a Motion to Approve the Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals (Command No. 5259).

At the end on Wednesday:

Motions on the Northern Ireland Orders on (Temporary Provisions) Act (Extension) and Appropriation.

At the end on Thursday:

Motions on the Firearms (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order and on the Docks and Harbours Valuation (Amendment) Order.

FRIDAY, 30TH MARCH—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 2ND APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Mr. Wilson

First, may I express the thanks of hon. Members on both sides of the House for the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has agreed to a two-day debate on Northern Ireland, which so many of us feel is right?

Secondly, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman expects to announce a debate in Government time to deal with the basic problems of agriculture and food prices, having regard to the statement made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food yesterday and the meeting early next week between the Food Ministers of the Community to pronounce upon the Commission's recommendation about the level of food prices in 1973–74?

Mr. Prior

I certainly could not promise any Government time. In the last 20 years we have had only five debates specifically on farm price review matters and those have been taken in Supply time. We would very much welcome an opportunity to debate agriculture in Supply time.

Mr. Wilson

Apart from the fact that in those 20 years we have never seen anything like the inflation in food prices that we have today, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman realises that the situation is now quite different? This is not an agricultural price review of the old style, for which he and his predeces- sors were responsible. This matter is now dominated utterly by the decisions to be taken next week. May we have Government time to debate this matter? We heard a lot of sob stuff from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite during the passage of the EEC legislation. Surely this House has a right to debate in Government time decisions taken in Brussels in our name affecting food prices for 15 million homes in this country, decisions over which there is no parliamentary control by this House.

Mr. Prior

These matters are suitable for debate at any time. I should not have thought it unreasonable to suggest that the Opposition should provide time to debate these matters. I understand from what my right hon. Friend said that there is no question of an early decision on prices within the Community. I should have thought there would be time for debate after next week if this could be arranged.

Mr. Powell

Will my right hon. Friend find early time to debate the motion on the regulation concerned with the wearing of safety helmets by motor cyclists, which is an important matter of principle and has aroused great public interest?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend refers to a Prayer in the names of some of my hon. Friends. I should like to consider when we can find time for a debate after ten o'clock one night on this matter, but I am afraid that it will not be next week

Mr. English

Is the right hon. Gentleman any nearer ensuring that we get our copies of HANSARD and our Order Papers? Since it is not on the Order Paper, would he tell us whether he can find time next week for a debate on Motion No. 253, standing in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and myself, about the extraordinary attempt at bribery by BUPA of hon. Members of this House, just before the debate on the National Health Service?

[That this House regards with contempt BUPA's attempted bribe to the Nottinghamshire Members of Parliament offering them a 20 per cent, subscription rebate with an added bonus of immediate entitlement to benefit on acceptance, which if accepted by those Members would have enabled them to jump the existing queue of 42,145 people in their area, nearly half of whom have been waiting over six months for a hospital bed.]

Mr. Prior

I will draw the latter point to the attention of my right hon. Friend. I have seen the hon. Member's motion. On the other point that he raised, I understand that there is some reason to hope that the supply of parliamentary papers will be back to normal next week. Under the very difficult circumstances of the last few days, we have good reason to be grateful to the people who have kept us going.

Mr. John Wells

When will my right hon. Friend find time to debate the Quirk Report? In view of the fact that five separate Departments are involved with this, can he say which of the five separate Ministers will be involved?

Mr. Prior

I must confess that although perhaps I should know all about the Quirk Report, in fact I do not, so I cannot promise time to debate it next week. However, having found out exactly what it is all about, I will get into contact with my hon. Friend.

Mr. David Steel

In advance of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill, shall we have a statement of the Government's intention with regard to the amendment carried in the other place providing for free birth control services, or shall we have to wait for the debate for the Government to make their policy clear?

Mr. Prior

These are matters with which my right hon. Friend will deal in his speech at the start of the debate on Monday.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

When will the promised statement on allocation of rooms in Somerset House be made? The debate was several months ago and there are people who would like to know.

Mr. Prior

I have no further information at the moment on that, but I will get in touch with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Faulds

In view of statements by the Paymaster-General in another place in connection with VAT on acquisitions by our national museums and galleries, when will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an announcement to be made of the Government's decision to abandon museum admission charges?

Mr. Prior

These are matters which I will discuss with my right hon. Friend and I will either write to the hon. Member during the course of next week or let him know at next week's business Question time.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, on Monday, considerable interest was shown in the House at the prospect of a wider debate upon the Government's decision concerning BSA? Is he aware that that interest will have been intensified by the highly contentious statements of Lord Shawcross on Tuesday, which, among other things, suggested that the sums involved were considerably greater than was revealed to this House?

Mr. Prior

I have noted what my hon. Friend said. Also, my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) has written to me on this subject. I have conveyed these views to my right hon. Friend. All that I can tell my hon. Friend at the moment is that I cannot find time in the immediate future for a debate on this subject. It seems to me to be something which comes well within the bounds of Supply, and there might be a prospect of a debate in that way.

Mr. Michael Foot

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to reconsider his reply to the Leader of the Opposition about a debate on food prices and the first major decision under the Common Market rules for proposing to settle this important question? Will he also consider the interlocking issue of when we are to have a debate on the whole question of the powers of this House over secondary legislation and the Report of the Select Committee on the subject? While we understand that the Irish business makes it very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to arrange that debate next week, will he consider that he should provide for such a debate in the week after that? I believe that he indicated that he would consider it favourably. Would he do so, especially because the answers that he gave the House last week and the week before on this matter mean that the House of Commons does not know whether the Government now accept or do not accept the recommendations of the Select Committee on this subject?

Mr. Prior

I am not certain that the last part of that question is entirely fair. I cannot find time next week or, I think, the week after that, for a debate on the first report from the Select Committee. However, I hope very much that we can. the week after that—and certainly before Easter—have the debate for which the hon. Gentleman asked.

As for debates generally along the lines mentioned, I can only say that the sooner we can decide how we are to organise our debates on Common Market legislation or draft legislation the better, but of course there have been many delays in getting the ad hoc Committee set up. It will be some time, I imagine, before we know its views in its second report. But, in the meantime, I will consider what other arrangements can be made.

Mr. Marten

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is growing dissatisfaction on both sides of the House about the Government's failure to provide time for debating our domestic legislation which now goes through the machinery of the Common Market? Is he aware of Motion No. 243, in my name, concerning the proposal to raise the age at which a driving licence may be taken out in this country from 17 to 18—a proposal which has emanated from Brussels and which no-one in this country wants? There is no reason why we should have it. This House must be given time to debate this matter and to say that it will not have that sort of thing. Would my right hon. Friend please provide time for this?

[That this House rejects the proposals contained in a draft directive of the Commission of the European Communities (No. C 119/1 dated 16th November 1972 in the Official Journal of the EC) namely, the Raising of the Age for a Driving Licence from 17 years to 18 years and other related matters.]

Mr. Prior

I am certain that this is a matter which the House will wish to debate before a decision is reached in Brussels. I must point out to my hon. Friend and to all hon. Members that we have given the ad hoc Committee the responsibility for advising us on these matters. It should have been set up very much earlier than it was and I do not think that the Government can be blamed for the delays over this matter.

Mr. Michael Foot

On that last point, it is not satisfactory for the right hon. Gentleman to put any blame on the ad hoc Committee when it has, on this matter made recommendations unanimously to the House. First, the right hon. Gentleman was confused in his reply whether the Government accept them, and, second the right hon. Gentleman has so far refused a debate. No one but himself is to blame for any confusion over this matter.

Mr. Prior

I did not put any blame on the ad hoc Committee, but I did put some blame on hon. Members opposite for not agreeing earlier to the setting up of the committee.

Mr. Adley

Following my right hon. Friend's unwillingness to accept my instruction to the Select Committee on Map-lin about the Channel Tunnel, has he noticed that, by sheer coincidence, the Green Paper was produced yesterday, the day before the winding up of the proceedings of the Select Committee on the hybrid Maplin Development Bill? Can he assure us that this Green Paper will be discussed before Report stage on the Maplin Development Bill?

Mr. Prior

No, I could not give that assurance. The Report stage of the Maplin Development Bill will be coming in front of the House before many weeks have passed, but I thought that it would be for the convenience of the House to have a Green Paper on the Channel Tunnel as early as possible.

Mr. Russell Kerr

When shall we have an opportunity—I am sorry to keep repeating this question—to debate the Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries concerning the Independent Broadcasting Authority? Meanwhile, can we have an assurance that no decision will be taken pre-empting the future of British broadcasting in the way that has been rumoured?

Mr. Prior

I said last week and 1 repeat this week that I think that the House will want to debate this issue as soon as we can conveniently arrange time for a debate, but, as for the decision to be taken, the Government have set out their views in their reply. I should like to consider what the hon. Member said about whether any decisions on those views are necessary before the debate.

Mr. Stainton

On the BSA affair, may I support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) in asking the Leader of the House for at least a short debate if only to put beyond a peradventure the expedition and expertise of the Government in handling this matter?

Mr. Prior

I have noted what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Would the Leader of the House consider arranging for a statement by the Attorney-General next week, or at the latest in the following week, to announce the Government's policy on the recommendations which have been made by the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on raising the limits of eligibility for legal aid, bearing in mind that that Committee said it was essential that this should be done before 2nd April?

Mr. Prior

I will certainly refer the hon. Member's question to my right hon. and learned Friend and arrange for him to make a statement, or at any rate to get in touch with the hon. Member and let him know.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Following the representations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) regarding the wearing of safety helmets by motor cyclists, will the Leader of the House bear in mind that it is also proposed that there should be compulsion for the wearing of seat belts? As these matters are for persuasion and for the insurance companies and not for the law of the land—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—would it not be better to withdraw these proposals altogether and then we need not discuss them?

Mr. Prior

These obviously are matters for debate—[HON. MEMBERS: " Hear, hear."]—and I have been asked to arrange for it. I have already stated that we shall try to find time for discussion of the Prayer not next week but perhaps in the week after.

Mr. Alfred Morris

If not next week, when will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for time to debate the two annual reports on Section 72 of the Chronic Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970? Is it not wholly wrong that we should have been unable to debate either of these reports?

Mr. Prior

Quite obviously the House would like to have an opportunity to debate these reports. The House must recognise, however, that next week we are to have two days on the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill and two days on the White Paper on Northern Ireland, by special request. The House must know that the job of the Leader of the House is made impossible if we have requests for two two-day debates—for which there are sound and sensible reasons—and at the same time hon. Members bombard me with requests for further debates on every item. I will do my best, but I cannot promise everything.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

With reference to the matter raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton), may I put it to my right hon. Friend that there is a serious problem as there appears to be a total discrepancy of fact as to the amounts of taxpayers' money discussed and offered for BSA between my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and the chairman of the company concerned? Bearing in mind that it is very difficult to reconcile the circumstances of BSA with the criteria which we were told last year would govern provision of taxpayers' finance under Section 8 of the Industry Act, and further bearing in mind that we were assured by the Minister for Industry and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that where there were substantial allocatins of taxpayers' finance to individual firms there would be possibilities for debate on the Floor of the House, and notwithstanding the pressure of business, would the Leader of the House reconsider the matter and provide an opportunity for an early debate on the BSA rescue operation?

Mr. Prior

There is no dispute between my right hon. Friend and the noble and learned Lord on the facts of the situation. As for the sums of money, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) knows, if the amount should be above £5 million under Section 8 for any single project—

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

It would be.

Mr. Prior

As my hon. Friend says that it would be over £5 million he is bound to get his order.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement in the House next week about the attempts by Manchester Corporation to acquire land for one thousand houses in Manchester? Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to repudiate the attempts of the Conservatives to obstruct the acquisition of that land which is needed to help Manchester's homeless?

Mr. Prior

I doubt very much whether that is a matter for debate next week.

Mr. Harold Walker

While appreciating the difficulties of the Leader of the House in responding to the many requests made to him, may I ask him to bear in mind that it is eight months since the Robens Report was published and eight weeks since I first asked for a debate on it? Does not the grim statement made in the House this afternoon about the disaster in Yorkshire give another indication of the urgent need to discuss this report, for otherwise the belief will grow that this House is indifferent to the question of industrial health and safety?

Mr. Prior

Of course I recognise the importance of what the hon. Member said and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to make a statement fairly soon outlining his intentions concerning the report. The hon. Member will agree that it is important for us to get the decisions right and that the new system should make a real and lasting improvement.

Mr. Benn

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider again the request made by the hon. Members for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) for an early debate not only on BSA but on industrial policy generally? There has been a major change of Government policy in this respect and the House has not had an opportunity of debating it adequately since the Budget debate 12 months ago. If public money is to be invested on this scale, the Government have the responsibility to allow us to debate the reasons for it and the background in each individual case.

Mr. Prior

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said, and, of course, what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry. I cannot arrange time for a debate in the near future. I should have thought this a suitable subject for a Supply Day. I have answered my hon. Friend on the whole question whether an order will have to be laid. Should the sum exceed £5 million, as he told me it would, an order would have to be laid.