HC Deb 03 May 1973 vol 855 cc1463-75
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House to 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 7TH MAY—Supply (18th allotted day).

There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on Prices During Phase II.

Remaining stages of the Education (Work Experience) Bill [Lords].

Consideration of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Bill [Lords] and of the Matrimonial Causes Bill [Lords], which are consolidation Measures.

TUESDAY 8TH MAY and WEDNESDAY 9TH MAY—Remaining stages of the Social Security Bill.

THURSDAY 10TH MAY—Supply (19th allotted day).

A debate on Defence, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Fertilisers (United Kingdom) (Amendment) Scheme.

FRIDAY 11TH MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 14TH MAY—Consideration in Committee of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill.

Motions on the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Regulations and on the Electoral Law (Northern Ireland) Orders.

Mr. Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that on a number of occasions in the session before Easter he changed his plans and the undertakings that he had given to the House about Motion No. 243 standing in the name of his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten):

[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.]

Is he now in a position to tell us when that matter will be debated? Surely he must have copies of the translations now.

Secondly, may I ask—he has been asked about this matter before—when he expects to be able to let us have a Government statement on the Younger Report on Privacy and on the Report of the Computer Society and of the Royal Statistical Society on the secrecy of the census which was presented to the Government many months ago?

Mr. Prior

The right hon. Member asks about the Prayer by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). The translations of the draft regulation are available. They were available before Easter. I recognise that we shall need a debate on this matter at a convenient time, but I am informed that there is no particular hurry for a debate. Any decisions which may be reached are some months off, so there will be time for adequate discussion long before any decisions have to be taken.

Mr. Marten

Before Whitsun?

Mr. Prior

I do not know whether my hon. Friend will insist that there be a debate before Whitsun. The amount of time available between now and Whitsun is very limited, and I should not like to give an undertaking to that effect.

I should like to consult my right hon. Friend on the Younger Report and then get in touch with the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wilson

I must press the right hon. Gentleman further. He gave a pretty clear assurance that he was hoping to take that motion before Easter. He then shifted his ground on it. Will he now give us a pledge, having failed to provide time for a debate before Easter—which he told us he ought to do—that this matter will be debated before Whitsun?

Mr. Prior

When I first said that I hoped that the House would debate it before Easter I was under the impression, from what my hon. Friend said, that there was a need for a quick debate and decision by the House. My information now is that there is no particular need for a quick decision. In fact, various changes are taking place. For example, the statements made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries have altered the situation.

Mr. Marten

Nevertheless, may we debate this matter as soon as possible? The original objection was that the documents were not available, but they are now available. We ought to get on with this matter. May we have an assurance that we shall debate it within the next seven or eight weeks, as the draft regulation is due to come into force at the end of this year?

Mr. Prior

I am not trying to avoid an obligation to have a debate on this matter, because I know that the House will wish to discuss it. I think I am right in saying that my right hon. Friend has made two statements on this matter in recent days and that discussions and observations are continuing. My hon. Friend asked whether we would debate this matter within seven or eight weeks. I do not want to commit myself absolutely to a time, but I should be very surprised if it were not within that period.

Mr. C. Pannell

May I ask the Leader of the House to name an early day on which he will bring forward and move the adoption of the unanimous report of the Committee of Privileges which has been here since 20th June last year, that Committee having been set up at the will of the House to consider the style and title of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Lord Lambton)? Will he bear in mind that I raise this matter at this late stage only because of the numerous attempts that I have made, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), at the right hon. Gentleman's request, to seek an accommodation with the hon. Gentleman. This is not a trivial matter. It touches on a ruling by Mr. Speaker and the status of a Member of this House. It also impinges upon the status of a senior committee of the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that this matter brooks no further delay.

Mr. Prior

I am grateful for the forbearance shown by the right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members on this matter. As the House knows, my hope has always been that it will be possible to settle this matter without a debate. However, I realise that it must eventually be brought to a conclusion. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I shall not find it easy to arrange for a debate within the next week or two.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

Still on committees, it is nearly two years since the Select Committee on Procedure urged the Government to take a fresh look at our present method of preparing legislation. Precisely nothing appears to have been done. I know that my right hon. Friend is very busy, but may I ask him to look at this matter and perhaps to make a statement next week?

Mr. Prior

I hope to announce early next week the composition and terms of reference of a committee on the preparation of legislation. I am glad to tell the House that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) has agreed to accept my invitation to be the chairman of that committee. I hope to announce the names of the members of the Committee next week. It will be an extremely important Committee, which will have far-reaching effects on the understandability, if that is the right word, of our legislation.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Does the Leader of the House recall that when the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made his statement on Tuesday, following the negotiations on Common Market commodity prices, he indicated that it was the Government's intention to make a statement on the provision of concessionary butter for Britain's elderly and socially deprived "within days"? That statement has not yet been made. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is the Government's intention to make a statement next week on this important aspect?

Mr. Prior

I confirm that it is the Government's intention to make a statement on that matter within days—and within days from last Tuesday when my right hon. Friend said so.

Mr. Sydney Chapman

Earlier, my right hon. Friend indicated that we have a heavy programme between now and Whitsun. Does that programme include a debate and decision on the new parliamentary building? If so, when, how long will the debate last, and will he confirm that it will be on a Government motion that the building should be proceeded With?

Mr. Prior

When I referred to our having a heavy programme before Whitsun, I meant to emphasise that there are only three more parliamentary weeks left before Whitsun. Time is short. I hope that we shall be able to find time to debate that matter before Whitsun. I wanted a debate earlier on this subject. but additional information became available to the Services Committee which it was felt should be reported to the House in advance of a debate. That committee will be reporting shortly to the House. We shall then see whether that will give enough time for the House to consider the further report from the Services Committee and whether a debate will be possible before Whitsun. I have noted my hon. Friend's comments about the Government tabling a motion to approve the new building. I should like to consider that matter.

Mr. Dell

In view of the disgraceful decision of the Government to attempt to reverse the decision of the Standing Committee on the Social Security Bill on tax rebates for reserve scheme contributions, does he not feel that two days will be totally inadequate for the Report stage of the Bill? Will he allow additional time for that consideration to enable the House to be properly informed on the implications of the Government decision?

Mr. Prior

We must see how we get on, but I very much hope that we can make good progress on the Bill in those two days.

Mr. Iremonger

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time before Whitsun for a short debate on Early Day Motion No. 321 so that the matter be considered by the House before the delegation leaves?

[That this House takes note of the fact that a delegation of hon. Members is shortly to visit the Soviet Union, is hopeful that this country's traditional championship of oppressed minorities and individuals will be maintained by them on this occasion, with special reference to Sylva Zalmanson, who has been incarcerated by the Soviet Government in circumstances that cause grave concern and anxiety to all Jewish Soviet citizens and recall the trials of the Stalin era, and requests those hon. Members to convey to the Soviet authorities for transmission to Cylva Zalmanson a package containing letters of encouragment and vitamin foods, which package will be delivered to the hon. Members at London Airport on their departure, and asks the delegation to nominate one of its members to receive it.]

Mr. Prior

I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but it is for hon. Members themselves when visiting foreign countries to decide which matters they raise with their hosts. I shall refer his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. Hattersley

Does the Leader of the House recall that 10 days ago a spokesman for the Department of Education and Science told newspapers that a statement on school building costs was imminent? Will a statement be made next week and may we have a categorical assurance that the statement will be made to the House and not outside?

Mr. Prior

I shall convey those remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, but I know of no statement on this subject that is likely to be made next week.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry makes an early statement on Rolls-Royce?

Mr. Prior

I am not aware that any statement on that topic is likely to be made within the next few days, but I will convey my hon. Friend's remarks to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Sir G. de Freitas

Does the Leader of the House recall that nearly three months ago he told me that he was making a big effort to arrange for debates on the reports of Wheatley, Robens, Younger, Franks and Erroll, all published in 1972? We realise that he has problems in terms of time, but what has been the result of his big effort?

Mr. Prior

One of the results of my big effort is that we are debating the Select Committee's report on broadcasting this afternoon, and there have been many recent examples where we have been able to have a general debate on subjects which we have not been able to debate for some years.

Mr. Kilfedder

In view of the grave importance of the subject, will the Leader of the House find time to debate the extradition procedure between Eire and the United Kingdom before the extra- dition order against an Ulsterman, Mr. Taylor, is executed? Will he bear in mind the working of the reciprocity arrangements with the Eire Government, since that Government have been unable to find terrorists wanted for the murder of British soldiers and citizens in Northern Ireland? Will he also bear in mind that the courts in Eire have consistently shown bias in favour of such terrorists by refusing to extradite them on grounds that they were committing no offence?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. I cannot find time for that. We are devoting an enormous amount of time to Northern Ireland affairs and it shows a sense of ingratitude to ask for more.

Mr. Edward Lyons

In view of the impending Operation Eyesore campaign for 30th June and the repeated Government assurances that they are considering extending the scheme, may we have a statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment next week announcing the Government's decision about the scheme, since thousands of jobs are at stake and the future appearance of Britain is also affected?

Mr. Prior

Operation Eyesore has been a very successful campaign. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is taking a great personal interest in this campaign. I will convey to him the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Will the Leader of the House convey to the Home Secretary the fact that the House would like him to make a statement on the Maxwell-Stamp Report? That report relates to the problem of taxicabs and minicabs and needs to be aired.

Mr. Prior

I do not think my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary intends to make an early statement on that matter, but I shall consult him and ask him to get in touch with my hon. Friend. I thought that we had got some way forward on the subject of taxis and minicabs, but I will check on the situation.

Mr. Skinner

Will the right hon. Gentleman conduct an investigation into the occurrence during the Finance Bill Committee proceedings last night when no Government Minister was able to find the Geneva Protocol of 21st December 1972 under which taxes will be raised from the ordinary people of this country? I have always taken the view that there should be no taxation without representation. Since the Prime Minister is to meet the President of France shortly, will he take steps to suspend the Finance Bill Committee proceedings until the Geneva Protocol is found, or certainly until the Prime Minister is able to convey to President Pompidou that he might be able to look at it, if it exists, to enable us to proceed with the Finance Bill Committee stage?

Mr. Prior

Though I have not had reported to me the proceedings on the Finance Bill last night, I note what the hon. Gentleman said. Since he has given a full explanation of what happened, no doubt others will have noted it.

Mr. Redmond

May I once again press my right hon. Friend to find time to debate the subject of metrication? Has he seen the letter I sent to him yesterday showing that in the present situation there is a possibility of danger to life and limb, if somebody misunderstands the difference between simple metrication and the new SI units. If there is a danger of sloppy joints in motorway bridges, may there not be a catastrophe unless we do something about the situation within the democratic process?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said in his letter, which I have studied. I recognise that the subject of metrication is very important, but I cannot promise time immediately for a debate.

Mr. Loughlin

May I draw attention to Motion No. 311 which is in my name?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make clear in no uncertain manner to the Government of France their absolute opposition to the proposed nuclear test in the Pacific Ocean.]

Is he aware that 80 other hon. Members signed that motion within a day of its appearance? It draws attention to the proposed nuclear test in the Pacific Ocean. Is this not a subject on which, in view of our relations with Australia and New Zealand, there should be a full day's debate so that the French Government will know what we feel about the test?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary answered Questions about this matter yesterday and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has also answered Questions on that matter over a long period of time. The Government hope that France, in common with all other countries which have not yet done so, will accede in due course to the partial test ban treaty of 1963, which prohibits nuclear tests in the atmosphere. This is well known to the French Government and has been made clear repeatedly in this House.

Mr. Ashley

The Prime Minister was recently asked whether he would refer to the Central Policy Review Staff the question of how effectively Britain could exercise its influence against the use of torture in Turkey, Greece, South Africa and Brazil and he evaded that question. Is there any chance of a debate on this topic next week?

Mr. Prior

Since I know something about the duties of the CPR staff and the sort of matters which it has on its plate, I doubt whether that would be a suitable subject to refer to it.

Mr. Strauss

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for nearly 12 months we have been put off with a wide variety of excuses for the Government's inaction in dealing with the report of the Committee of Privileges to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) referred earlier? Does he not agree that the status and authority of that committee is most important in Parliamentary affairs and that when that Committee is asked to deal with a ticklish constitutional matter, it is most undesirable that when that committee issues a unanimous report no action is taken on it? May we have an assurance that some action is taken, if not next week, certainly within a month?

Mr. Prior

I am not certain that I can accept the contention of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) that a number of excuses have been offered for 12 months. We have been trying continually to find a way round the problem which would not take up the time of the House. That would be in conformity with the wishes of the House. But I recognise that that process cannot go on for ever and I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said. If, in the next week or two, I am unable to find a satisfactory outcome, the House will have to be asked to make a decision on the matter. I accept that.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman is the chairman of the Committee of Privileges. He must recognise that whatever time has been put in off the Floor of the House has been put in to save the time of the House. A great deal of time has been put in over the past few years by successive members of successive Committees of Privileges.

The House always attaches the greatest importance to the work done, for the most part, by senior hon. Members on that committee. It would be intolerable if hon. Members have to serve on that committee and then for month after month, and at the present rate of progress for years, nothing happens with the unanimous report. The question might be raised whether the Members of that committee should continue to serve unless the right hon. Gentleman gets on with it.

Mr. Prior

I have had very much in mind that the Committee of Privileges has put in a lot of time and that it is a senior committee. I have been trying to balance the need, on the one hand, to receive the views of the committee with the desire, on the other hand, not to take up the lime of the House on a matter which most hon. Members feel should be settled, if possible, without taking up the time of the House. I recognise what the right hon. Gentleman said. I have been pressed very strongly on this matter. I know that time is now getting very short, and I have taken due regard of that.

Mr. Ron Lewis

Can the Leader of the House give us some idea about the Government's thinking on the Erroll Report? When are we to have a debate on that report?

Mr. Prior

The Government are still considering the Erroll Report. I am not able to promise a debate within the next few weeks.

Dr. Gilbert

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when we may expect to see the Page Report on National Savings, which has been with the Treasury since before Easter? In fact, we expected to have the report at that time. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot tell us when we may expect to see the report, can he reassure the House that there is no foundation in the rumours that the report might be suppressed because its contents are not to the Government's liking?

Mr. Prior

There is absolutely no foundation in that rumour. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the report has been completed and that my right hon. Friend hopes to publish it shortly.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will the Leader of the House consider further the urgent need for an early statement on the question of limiting the costs of educational building? A serious situation is arising in some areas, including my constituency, because projects cannot go forward because of a lack of decision by the Minister.

Mr. Prior

I have already answered a question about this matter. I shall convey what hon. Members have said to my right hon. Friend and I shall ascertain when she can make a statement.

Mr. MacLennan

Is the Leader of the House aware that the arrangements which he has made for the House to scrutinise the conduct of foreign policy are wholly inadequate? In 17 months, we have had one day of general debate on foreign affairs. As the Government are engaged in monthly consultation with the Davignon Committee in Europe about the conduct of our foreign affairs in the European context, is it not time that he should look at the matter seriously with a view to making opportunities for hon. Members to scrutinise and recommend courses of action in this most important sphere?

Mr. Prior

I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman said. It is true that we have not had a foreign affairs debate since Christmas. However, there are other opportunities when foreign policy matters can be discussed. We have had a two-day debate on defence and we shall have a one-day debate on defence next week. Further, there are all the opportunities which have become available because of Common Market legislation.

Mr. Marks

Is the Leader of the House aware that his right hon. Friend has been promising local authorities, teachers, and this House for weeks that there will be a statement on the urgent matter of the unit cost of school building? Such statements have always been given in April, and last year's statement came on 4th April. Will the right hon. Gentleman investigate the delay of this statement? It is an urgent matter for local authorities.

Mr. Prior

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

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on. We have an important debate and a matter of privilege.