HC Deb 17 May 1973 vol 856 cc1704-19
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 21ST MAY—Private Members' motions until 7 p.m.

Second Reading of the Insurance Companies Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 22ND MAY—Second Reading of the Pakistan Bill and of the Bangladesh Bill.

Remaining stages of the Bahamas Independence Bill.

WEDNESDAY 23RD MAY—Remaining stages of the Employment and Training Bill.

THURSDAY 24TH MAY—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill.

Motions on the Northern Ireland orders relating to Road Traffic (Amendment) and on Salaries (Comptroller and Auditor General and Others).

FRIDAY 25TH MAY—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the Whitsun Adjournment until Monday 11th June.

Mr. Wilson

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that last week I asked about a debate on foreign affairs? Is he now in a position to say something about that question? Will he look again at the answers which he gave when I put to him the question of a statement about famine in Bangladesh, in India, and now also in West Africa? He undertook to bring that matter to the notice of his right hon. Friend and to see about a statement. We have not had one.

I also asked for a statement on the Price Commission's refusal to publish decisions except on what it regards as major cases. We have not had a statement on that matter. Will he look into it?

Finally, the Prime Minister said that there will be a statement next week by or about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's doings and what he actually said as opposed to what he appears to have been reported as having said. Could that statement also cover what the right hon. Gentleman was alleged to have said about monetary union and joining the Community float? Will whoever is to make the statement—I do not know whether it will be the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but that would be the most convenient course for the House —cover both points?

Mr. Prior

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be making the statement. I think next Wednesday would be for the convenience of the House. Certainly my right hon. Friend will be covering the whole series of talks that have been taking place on behalf of both my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and other right hon. and hon. Members who have been in Brussels. He will cover the whole area, including the point which the right hon. Gentleman has just raised.

Whatever some Press reports may have suggested, the Price Commission has made no announcement about its intentions on publication of information regarding approvals of price increases. However, I understand that the Commission is issuing Press releases about all applications for price increases which are approved, together with brief explanations of the reasons. I will gladly consider how best to disseminate this information to hon. Members.

Regarding the drought and famine in India, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been in touch with the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) and has written to her. It is not thought that a statement at this moment would be of value to the House. However, if the House feels at this stage that more should be said—I do not think it would help matters if more were said—and wants to press me on the matter, I will again pursue with my right hon. Friend whether he should make a statement.

Mr. Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman said that it is not thought that a statement will be helpful. The passive mood does not say who does not think it will be helpful. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that whatever exchanges there have been between Government and Shadow spokesmen, there is great concern about the country that more needs to be done about it? There is a feeling—however correct it may be we could judge better from the statement—that many people would like to feel that more help was being channelled through the relief agencies, so it would be a good thing to clear this up. Will he therefore bring this matter to the notice of his right hon. Friend with the idea of a statement being made before the House adjourns?

Mr. Prior

I will certainly do that. I will ask my right hon. Friend whether he will make a statement. If he does not wish to make a statement at this stage, may I suggest that this is a matter that can be raised in the Adjournment debate which has to take place next week. I will certainly see what can be done. There were good reasons for my right hon. Friend not wishing to make a statement.

I cannot go further than I went last week on the subject of a debate on foreign affairs. The first week or two after the recess will be very busy with business which we must get forward. I accept that there must be a foreign affairs debate as soon as it can be arranged.

Mr. Powell

Since the position of the EEC in the forthcoming GATT negotiations is to be decided by July, may I ask my right hon. Friend to see that a White Paper setting out the stance of the Government is placed before the House and that there is an early opportunity to debate it?

Mr. Prior

I do not think that a White Paper is likely to be arranged. As for a debate, this matter would be relevant to a foreign affairs debate. However, I will certainly bear in mind what my right hon. Friend said.

Mr. C. Pannell

Is the Leader of the House aware that I do not intend today to raise the matter of the status of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Lord Lambton)? Will he indicate when the House is likely to have a debate on the new parliamentary building? Bearing in mind that there appear to be considerable leaks in the Press about what should be the Government's attitude about the building, it seems only courteous that on a matter which concerns us so closely policy should be reserved for a statement in this House.

Mr. Prior

I wanted to hold a debate on this subject before Easter, but for one reason or another, particularly because the Services Committee wished to discuss and recommend to the House more evidence that became available—that evidence is now available—it was not possible. I recognise that the House will want an opportunity to make up its mind about the parliamentary building. It is for the House to reach a decision upon it. However, there is no chance of its being debated in the next week or two.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the statement to be made by the Chancellor of the Duchy on Wednesday will deal specifically with a point which has been raised time and again, namely, that in the event of the Government deciding to continue the regional employment premium, we may know whether the Common Market will allow us to do so?

Mr. Prior

I will certainly convey that point to my right hon. Friend so that he may deal with it on Wednesday.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is that not exactly the point of the Borschette proposals, that if the Government were to propose this policy, the premium would have to be phased out in five years? Is he aware that we on this side of the House do not accept that?

Mr. Prior

I do not wish to go into policy, but the Government's policy on regional employment premium has always been separate from any decision which is likely to be reached as a result of any negotiations taking place in Brussels. My right hon. Friend can deal with this point next week.

Mr. Grimond

Will the Leader of the House consult the Secretary of State for Scotland with a view to providing the House with an opportunity to discuss the proposals concerning Lord Polwarth's new powers and the new Oil Council? Is he aware that it would obviously be desirable that we should have a debate? If that is not possible, will he bear in mind that, at the least, a statement should be made to the House so that the Secretary of State can be questioned upon it?

Mr. Prior

I will certainly consider what the right hon. Gentleman said. I have had an indication that it may be possible to raise this matter in the very near future.

Mr. Montgomery

In view of the absolutely unbelievable performance of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South East (Mr. Benn) in the debate on Rolls-Royce on Tuesday, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he could arrange a repeat to give hon. Members who missed that performance the chance to hear for themselves how pathetic was the Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry?

Mr. Prior

The House always likes to be fair about these things. I do not think it would be the wish of the Government to kick a man when he is down.

Mr. Handing

Will the right hon. Gentleman say when we are to have the debate on the Whitsun Adjournment Motion? Will he further say when we shall have the opportunity to debate Motion No. 340 dealing with the logic of capitalism as opposed to one or two of its unpleasant or unacceptable aspects?

[That this House recognises that the activities of the firm of Lonrho are not so much the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism, as the inevitable logic of capitalism; declares its belief that, if a Conservative ex-Cabinet Minister is worthy of his hire, then so is the hospital ancillary worker; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation to stop the use of the facilities of the Cayman Islands and other tax-havens for the purpose of tax-avoidance.]

Mr. Prior

I cannot say that we shall have that debate within the next week or two. It is not the usual practice to announce the day on which the Adjournment Motion will be taken. Certainly it will not be on the last day before the recess. I hope to arrange it fairly early in the week.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the eventual if belated arrival of the two computer terminals for the use of hon. Members, which are situated in a lofty eyrie overlooking another place, will have given much pleasure to the few hon. Members who know of their existence? When shall we have an early announcement about the terms and conditions of access to these terminals for hon. Members?

Mr. Prior

I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend that information. I shall have to make some inquiries about this facet of technology which has now reached the Houses of Parliament. I will do so and communicate with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Harper

In view of the small amount of business for next week, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will find time for a debate on Circular 60/3 issued by the Department of the Environment and dealing with house building by the direct works departments of local authorities? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if Ministers from that Department were to listen to such a debate they would see that this circular was and is a big mistake.

Mr. Prior

My right hon. and learned Friend will be answering Questions on this subject next Wednesday. It would be better to await his reply. I am afraid that I could not possibly find time for a debate on this subject next week.

Mr. McMaster

May I refer to next Thursday's business and bring my right hon. Friend's attention to the representations which have already been made to him about the Road Traffic (Amendment) Order? Is he aware that this is a substantial order, covering all road traffic in Northern Ireland? Will he reconsider his decision to place it in such a way that it follows such an important matter as the constitution Bill. Can he not rearrange business so that one or the other of these items could have more time allocated, as their magnitude deserves?

Mr. Prior

I am not trying to deny for one moment that these are important matters. I thought that it would be for the convenience of the House, and even for Northern Ireland Members, if we took all of this business in one day.

Mr. Stonehouse

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to Motion No. 315?

[That this House applauds the initiative taken by the Indian and Bangladesh Governments in proposing to Pakistan a formula for the improvement of relations in the sub-continent, namely the proposal to exchange the Biharis in Bangladesh, who have opted for Pakistani citizenship, and Pakistani prisoners of war now in India, for the Bangalees who are detained in Pakistan but who wish to return to Bangladesh; and urges Her Majesty's Government to use its good offices to assist in securing such an arrangement as a contribution to alleviating great human distress in the sub-continent.]

Is he aware that this deals with the alleviation of distress in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan by the exchange of prisoners? Does he intend to allow special time for a debate on this subject or can it be raised in the debate on Tuesday?

Mr. Prior

It is not for me to say whether it would be in order during the debate on Tuesday. The Government's view on this is well known. We very much hope that the proposals in the recent joint declaration by the Governments of India and Bangladesh will result in real progress towards a settlement of the outstanding issues. We have welcomed the declaration as introducing a new element of flexibility into the situation. We also welcomed the reply by the Government of Pakistan in which it indicated its readiness to enter into discussions with the Indian Government.

Mr. Skeet

My right hon. Friend was good enough to say that there would be an opportunity to raise the question of the GATT negotiations in the foreign affairs debate. Does he not consider this entirely unsuitable, because this is a matter of economics. As it has to be decided in July, should we not debate it urgently? Or are the Government prepared to adopt the Commission's proposals and shall we be unable to express our views on such an important matter?

Mr. Prior

We shall certainly want an opportunity to debate it. There will be time to do so after Whitsun.

Mr. Lawson

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the Nature Conservancy Council Bill which has completed its Committee stage in another place? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a sensible amendment was made to that Bill by 126 votes to 47? Is he further aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to see the Bill receive a speedy passage through both Houses? Will he do something about it?

Mr. Prior

We shall have to wait and see in which form the Bill arrives from another place. I recognise that this is an important matter in which the hon. Gentleman has taken a great interest. I very much hope that it will be possible to find a suitable time for a debate to take place. I have a feeling that we hope that the Bill will go to a Second Reading Committee.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is only a modest consolation for us to know that the GATT negotiations can be discussed in a foreign affairs debate when what is needed is a definitive statement of Government policy? Cannot my right hon. Friend rescue the House and himself from any embarrassment by taking over Early Day Motion No. 142 standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet)?

[That this House calls upon the Government to lay before it a statement of their views and proposals for the next round of tariff reductions in the Geneva Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, particularly with regard to the proposals of the United Slates of America, in order that the Government may ascertain the wishes of this House in advance of the adoption of any policy by the European Economic Community.]

Mr. Prior

I will certainly have a look at anything that can get me out of an embarrassing situation in the way my hon. Friend suggested. I do not think I can go further than I have gone.

Mr. Concannon

In view of the recent decisions taken on a free vote by this House, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to have a close look at Motion No. 331?

[That this House, in the light of recent decisions, now takes the view that the death penalty for Her Majesty's forces under the Armed Forces Act 1971 for misconduct in action, assisting the enemy, obstructing operations, etc., should be amended.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this relates to the death penalty for Her Majesty's Forces? May we have a debate about it, not next week but in the neat future, so that the House may discuss this anomalous situation involving Her Majesty's Forces in the light of the recent decisions which the House has reached?

Mr. Prior

We have spent quite a bit of time on this issue in the last few weeks. My note says that this point would have been in order in the debate last Monday. I cannot find any more time at the moment for debates on this subject.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that for nearly six months he has promised a statement on the allocation of rooms in Somerset House? Is he further aware that the Secretary of State for Education and Science said on Tuesday that this decision would be made very soon? May we please have it before the Whitsun Recess?

Mr. Prior

I will certainly consult my right hon. Friend and see whether a statement can be made before the Whitsun recess. If not, no doubt my hon. Friend will wish to raise the subject on the Adjournment.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider providing time for a debate on our roads policy in the countryside in view of the major issues coming up for decision? Has he seen Motion No. 282 standing in my name and that of other hon. Members which deals with this subject, concerning many of our constituents?

[That this House calls attention to the need for a special wads policy within National Parks and other areas of outstanding natural beauty sensibly balancing the critical environmental factors with essential local economic needs; and urges the Government to set up a Special Commission to examine proposals for major schemes in these areas and to make recommendations to the Secretary of State for the Environment.]

Mr. Prior

I appreciate that this is an important subject. I cannot promise any time for it immediately. Perhaps there will be opportunities after Whitsun.

Mr. Marten

Does my right hon. Friend recall Early Day Motion No. 243, standing in my name and the names of other hon. Members, opposing the draft directive of the EEC on driving licences?

[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.]

Does he recall that the original reason for not debating it was that copies of the draft directive were not available? They are now available. In order to relieve my right hon. Friend of saying that he cannot find time to debate the motion, I suggest that he looks at the business for Monday night after 10 p.m., following the Second Reading of the Insurance Companies Bill. No other Bill or business has yet been set down for that time, and it would be an excellent opportunity to debate the motion, which I know my right hon. Friend wants to debate.

Mr. Prior

I recall all that my hon. Friend has said, but I do not think that Monday night would be suitable for such a debate because I already have some business to put in at that time. It is the motion for the presentation of a gift to the Legislative Assembly of the Kingdom of Tonga. That is one of the subjects that I am seeking to put in, but I did not want to take up the time of the House by announcing it in my business statement. I have already told my hon. Friend that we shall have to find time for a debate on the subject of his motion in due course, but I do not think that it is quite so urgent as when he first put the motion down. Since then, there have been developments rather favourable to his point of view.

Mr. Jay

May I refer back to the question of the famine in India? May we at least have a statement next week on whether the report in today's Financial Times is true—that skimmed milk produced in this country is being dumped in the sea because of high prices?

Mr. Prior

I do not think there will be opportunity for debate next week. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is not unusual in the middle, or towards the end, of May for very small quantities of skimmed milk to be dumped owing to lack of capacity to deal with the glut at this time of the year.

Mr. Fowler

I remind my right hon. Friend that it is 12 months since the Criminal Law Revision Committee presented its report on evidence. Does he not agree that a debate on this subject is long overdue, particularly in view of the importance placed on it by some sections of the police? Even more important, does not my right hon. Friend accept that it is a long time since there has been a debate on crime policy generally and that it is not good enough that this very important issue should be left off the Floor of the House?

Mr. Prior

Yes, I agree. I think that we must find time for a debate on this important subject. I have promised in the past—indeed, before the Easter Adjournment—that the House will debate the matter in due course.

Mr. Michael Foot

If the Opposition were, as far as they were able, to guarantee that the right hon. Gentleman would get on the nod his Tonga motion— which he so happily discovered up his sleeve at the last moment—would he agree to accommodate the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) by having a debate on the driving licence motion on Monday night, so that we can be assured that the House is able to discuss the matter before it becomes the law of the land or before Her Majesty's Government take a definite view upon it?

If he will not have the debate on Monday, will the right hon. Gentleman at least give a guarantee that he will have it at an early date? The right hon. Gentleman said that we have business, when we come back after Whitsun, which might take us to July. But there has to be a decision, or an indication of the Government's view, on the policy of the Government about the EEC negotiations in GATT before July. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore also guarantee a debate, and the possibility of a vote, on that subject at least before July if we cannot have it next week?

Mr. Prior

It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that he may be able to give a gaurantee about Monday's debate on the Tonga gift. I remind him that I put it down for debate this week, and because some hon. Members wanted to talk on it I withdrew it in order to meet the convenience of other hon. Members. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee about next Monday. I have already said several times in relation to the driving licence directive that the House will wish to be consulted and if necessary to make its views known before a final decision is reached. I repeat that guarantee to the hon. Gentleman now.

I will look at what the hon. Gentleman said about the question of a debate on Her Majesty's Government's stance on the GATT negotiations. I am not certain about the ground on which he was advocating a debate.

Mr. Cormack

May I revert to the question put by the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) about the new parliamentary building? He asked again for a definitive debate and vote on it. May we have such a debate as soon as we return from the recess?

Mr. Prior

Certainly not directly, but soon afterwards.

Mr. Faulds

In view of the likely mis-judgment as to the use of the rooms in Somerset House, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange to delay an announcement of the decision until a more proper decision is come to?

Mr. Prior

This shows the difficulties one gets into. I will consult my right hon. Friend the Secertary of State for Education and Science. We had better see how we get on next week on the Adjournment motion.

Mr. Laurance Reed

Is it not time for a full-scale debate on the Icelandic fisheries dispute? Some of us have the gravest misgivings about the wisdom of the present policy and we are by no means convinced that it conforms to the national interest. We would welcome the opportunity to analyse and appraise the situation.

Mr. Prior

There is no opportunity for a debate next week but if there is information which should be available to the House, I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will wish to make a statement.

Mr. McNamara

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that today the British trawler fleet left Icelandic waters? Can he therefore arrange for the Foreign Secretary to come to the House tomorrow or early next week to make a statement on the Government's policy following the trawler skippers' decision?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend left for Hull immediately after his Questions today to meet the Action Committee there. If there is further information which should be made available to the House, I am sure that he will be prepared to make a statement. I will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

We have now read or had the opportunity to read the Green Paper by the Home Secretary on replica and toy firearms. When does the Home Secretary intend to make a statement, to present a White Paper or to initiate legislation on this very important subject?

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend has indicated that he will need to introduce legislation. I do not think that he has gone further than that. It seems to me that this important Green Paper will have to be followed by a statement of Government policy, which could probably tie in with the debate which has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler). I hope that we can arrange that in the next few weeks.

Mr. Body

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the allegation that EEC funds are being defrauded of some £50 million? We do not know how much of this loss will be borne by the British taxpayer. Should we not have the opportunity to debate the matter, ascertain the truth, and look for safeguards against such fraud?

Mr. Prior

This matter has been raised by the Conservative Members attending the European Parliament, and with very good effect. No doubt the issue will come before the House in due course.

Mr. Peter Archer

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the Rehabilitation of Offenders Bill, which has passed through all its stages in another place? Since the Bill seeks to give effect to an all-party report by Justice, will the right hon. Gentleman consider giving the limited time necessary for this measure of simple humanity?

Mr. Prior

It is unlikely that we shall be able to find time for it this Session, but I shall bear in mind what the hon. and learned Gentleman said.

Mrs. Renée Short

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the Press reports in the last few days suggesting that, at the end of July, an agreement is likely to be signed in connection with the further development of the Channel Tunnel? As this controversial project is now expected to cost about £900 million, does not the right hon. Gentleman think it high time that it was debated in the House? Will he undertake that we shall have an opportunity to debate it as soon as possible after the recess?

Mr. Prior

Obviously this is a matter which will have to be debated in the House. My right hon. Friend is hoping to give further information in a series of documents to the House over the next week or two. When those documents are available, together with the Green Paper which was published a few weeks ago, the House may then wish to have a debate, and I will do my best to arrange it.

Mr. Lipton

As soon as possible after the Whitsuntide Adjournment, may we have an early debate on the affairs of Lonrho Ltd.? There is widespread public interest in the serious issues involved, and the House ought to be given an opportunity of discussing them.

Mr. Prior

I can promise no time for such a debate, as I have already told hon. Gentlemen this afternoon, but there are various ways in which hon. Members can raise the subject and no doubt they will take advantage of it.

Mr. Tomney

May I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the obvious concern expressed in the House today at Question Time on the French nuclear test, and also refer him to a motion standing on the Order Paper in my name and in the name of well over 100 hon. Members, and ask him whether he cannot arrange for an early debate?

[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 tests in the Pacific Ocean.]

Mr. Prior

One does not sit here for very long without realising the feelings of people on this subject, but I cannot find time for a debate.

Mr. Kaufman

On a point of order. May I raise a point, with no acrimony, on something which has arisen specifically on business questions but which is a matter of greater relevance to hon. Members attempting to exercise their duties in scrutinising the actions of the executive, namely, the addition of motions without notice? I am not raising this point with any acrimony, but there are motions which suddenly appear on the Order Paper when one arrives in the House the existence of which one had not known before. It is difficult for an hon. Member to scrutinise them, and to prepare himself to speak with some responsibility.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that we can ventilate the subject now. If the hon. Gentleman will tell me what he has in mind, I will go into it.