HC Deb 15 November 1973 vol 864 cc669-79
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 19th NOVEMBER—Debate on an Opposition motion of censure relating to the economy.

TUESDAY 20th NOVEMBER—Supply (1st Allotted Day): Until Seven o'clock debate on an Opposition Motion on public services in Greater London, and afterwards, on an Opposition Motion on museum charges.

Motions on Statutory Instruments, Business of Supply and Procedure.

WEDNESDAY 21st NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Statutory Corporations (Financial Provisions) Bill.

Motion on the Iron and Steel Act 1969 (Continuance of Provisions) Order.

THURSDAY 22nd NOVEMBER—Debate on Northern Ireland, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 23rd NOVEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 26th NOVEMBER—Debate on European Economic Community affairs, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mr. Wilson

First, will the right hon. Gentleman promise an early debate on the recent report of the Select Committee on European Community secondary legislation?

Secondly, can we have a statement on one of the great mysteries of modern statistics—the £75 million shortage which was omitted when we were told that the trade gap was only £298 million? Can we have a statement on how this happened and whether, as is usually the case, these figures will now be carried forward to the following month?

Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman announce the date of the autumn Budget or alternatively, in order to calm down speculation at home and abroad, will he state categorically that there is not going to be an autumn Budget? Will he give an assurance that if there is one the Government will break with their recent practice and consider making it in the House and not outside?

Mr. Prior

I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman's latter two points will be in order for the debate on Monday. There is certainly no question of an autumn Budget. On the other point which the right hon. Gentleman made, relating to a debate on the Select Committee's report about the way in which we should conduct our affairs connected with the European Community, I agree that the House will wish for an early debate on this matter. I cannot promise it for next week's business announcement, but it will certainly be soon after.

Mr. Harold Wilson

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, may we take it that the Government have now ruled out an autumn Budget?

Mr. Prior

The Government have absolutely no intention of introducing an autumn Budget.

Sir Bernard Braine

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the continued delay in setting up a Select Committee on overseas development? Is he aware that present information indicates that every member of the former Select Committee is willing to serve? Can he explain the delay and say when it will be set up?

Mr. Prior

I know that there has been some delay, which I think has been due to getting the names organised. I understand that that matter has now been concluded and that an appropriate motion can be put on the Order Paper tonight.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Will the Leader of the House confirm that he intends very shortly to announce the setting up of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, with particular reference to energy problems in Scotland? Can he also tell us whether he will try to find time for the report and the Government's comments on the previous Select Committee's report on land use in Scotland?

Mr. Prior

On the question of a Scottish Select Committee, I gave an undertaking last Session that one would be set up this Session. I think it is a matter for discussion between the usual channels in the House as to the names and so on. The actual topic for discussion by the Select Committee must be a matter for it, and not for me. As regards the debate on the Select Committee's report on land use, this must be considered along with the other claims for debates in Select Committee time.

Mr. Biffen

Since my right hon. Friend has so authoritatively disposed of the prospect of an autumn Budget, can he say when we might expect the White Paper on public expenditure?

Mr. Prior

The White Paper on expenditure is due out next month. I cannot give my hon. Friend an exact date for it at the moment. It may be a week or so later than usual, but it will certainly come next month.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Does the Leader of the House care to comment upon my right hon. Friend's question about the lightness by £75 million of the balance of payments deficit this month? Is it the intention of the Government to carry this £ 75 million forward to next month's deficit?

Mr. Prior

Perhaps I could help the House in this matter. I understand that the computer which records the imports at Heathrow broke down—it may even have been a strike—so that there will, of course, be some imports statistics to be carried forward. Those statistics will be carried forward in the normal and ordinary way.

Mr. Jennings

When will my right hon. Friend be in a position to make a statement on the future of the Select Committee on Public Petitions?

Mr. Prior

I have had correspondence with my hon. Friend on this subject. I am not yet in a position to make a statement, but I will contact him as soon as possible.

Sir G. de Freitas

Will the Leader of the House remember that there was such a flood of legislation last Session that it was impossible to debate many important reports, and will he, in the interests of the House, do better this Session?

Mr. Prior

I do not think we have made a bad start, and we did not do so badly last Session.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Can my right hon. Friend say whether early time will be made available to debate the report of the Nugent Committee on defence lands?

Mr. Prior

I have always thought it better for the Government's decisions to be announced on this matter before we have a debate. But I will bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Since the right hon. Gentleman a moment ago gave a clearer answer to my question about the £75 million than he did the first time round, and, indeed, gave his explanation, am I to take it that what he said confirms that it will not be just a corrected figure for October which will be put out, but that, following all previous practice when there has been under-recording or a delay through strikes, through shipping or dock troubles, that figure will be carried forward to the next month when the imports are recorded?

Mr. Prior

I think it would be better if that part of the problem were dealt with on Monday, and I will see that it is dealt with on Monday. I should also like to tell the right hon. Gentleman that no figure can be known, because the figures have not been collected.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Is my right hon. Friend now able to say when he will find time for a debate on the recent report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration?

Mr. Prior

It is usual on these occasions to await the Government's reply before having a debate. One report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration, dealing with police-immigrant relations, and a reply by the Government are already in front of the House. I should like to consider whether we should have a debate on the latter report, taking into consideration the other report which has been published by the Select Committee, perhaps in advance of the Government's reply.

Mr. English

Now that we are in a new phase of the prices and incomes policy, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when he will make a statement on the ways in which inflation has affected this House, which include not only the allowances for Members and their secretaries but also the wages of its lowest-paid staff, such as catering staff and messengers?

Mr. Prior

Some of these matters are, of course, relevant to the Services Committee and the sub-committee of the Services Committee, which have been looking at this point.

Dame Irene Ward

In view of the fact that computers keep making mistakes, would it not be a good idea to analyse whether the mistakes arise because of the way computers are made or because of the people who use them? I have just learned about a young soldier who returned from Northern Ireland and has been charged £84 by a computer, which is supposed to have been overpaid into his account. He is now expected to repay it when he does not have any money left to live on. That is the fault of the computer.

Mr. Prior

I ought to correct something that I said earlier. I do not think it was a question of the computer breaking down; I believe the trouble was that the computer operators went on strike or on a "go-slow". So all I can say to my hon. Friend is that, if she cares to send the details of this case to me or direct to my right hon. Friend, we will see that it is investigated.

Mr. Loughlin

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the motion on the Order Paper in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), others of my hon. Friends and myself?

[That this House deplores the pay and conditions as applied to workers in the Houses of Parliament; is appalled by the advertisement which appeared in a London evening newspaper recently advertising for waitresses at £16.30 a week, £9.30 a week for evening cafeteria general assistants working from 6 p.m. to midnight, commis waitresses at £12.50, kitchen porters at £17 and £15 for chefs de partie (split shifts); and instructs the Services Committee to set a good example by giving such employees an immediate and substantial increase on their slave rates of pay, even if this means further increases in prices within the House.]

This was put down last Session and has now been retabled. It deals with the scandalous sweat shop wages which we are paying to members of the staff employed by the House of Commons. Also, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the position has now arisen where, in certain instances, we are having to employ sub-standard persons to carry out the jobs? Is it not about time that we in this House put our own house in order and found time to debate the whole position of the employees of this House?

Mr. Prior

I must say that I do not think that the words used by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) are very suitable for this occasion. These matters are firstly for negotiation between the trade union concerned and the management of the Refreshment Department and subsequently for consideration by the Catering Sub-Committee of the Services Committee. I have already said that the Catering Sub-Committee resolved last Session that urgent consideration should be given to the wages paid to the staff of the Refreshment Department, and that consideration is going on.

Mr. Loughlin

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—if it is a point of order. Apparently I used the word "persons". I meant to say "employing persons at substandard wages."

Mr. Costain

In view of the public interest in the Russell Report on Adult Education, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on this important issue before Christmas?

Mr. Prior

I have to tell my hon. Friend that the opportunities in the weeks before Christmas for many more general debates than those that I have just announced are very limited.

Mr. Skinner

Now that the Government have got two separate sets of inquiries going on into the London and Counties Securities Ltd. group, does the Leader of the House think that it would be convenient to have a debate on the matter, especially in view of the fact that within the space of three months one of the auditors of a leading subsidiary has resigned, that there is now a question of a Government inquiry into the whole affair, and that there is now the added problem of asset-stripping in which London and Counties Securities Ltd. is attempting to take over the Inveresk Paper group? Bearing in mind that the Leader of the Liberal Party is still going round the South Coast opening London and Counties Securities banks in supermarkets and so on, is it not time that the whole affair was debated in the House so that we might get rid of the ugly face of Liberalism?

Mr. Prior

Not next week, Sir.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to Early Day Motion No. 24?

[That this House calls upon the British Airports Authority and British Airways to retain the check-in system at the Cromwell Road Terminal at least until the rail link to Heathrow is open for passenger use.]

Will he try to find time for a debate on it next week or, failing that, very soon, because facilities have already been partly withdrawn at West London Air Terminal and they will all be withdrawn by Christmas, causing great hardship to a very large number of people?

Mr. Prior

I understand that the withdrawal of check-in facilities at the West London Air Terminal is currently under discussion between the British Airways Board and the Airline Users' Committee of the Aviation Authority, which has statutory responsibility for furthering the interests of air transport. I think that it would be best to await the outcome of those discussions before considering the matter further.

Mr. Robert Hughes

When the Leader of the House considers the possibility of a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in relation to other claims, will be remember that we should have had a debate on this important document last Session and that the reason why we were unable to do so was that the Scottish Office was so appallingly slow in preparing the Government's answer?

Mr. Prior

Without accepting the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I remind him that there is only a limited time to debate Select Committee reports, and I have already had a request today for another important debate.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

During the passage through the House of the Industry Bill 15 months ago, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was then responsible for the matter, gave the House the most express assurances about the provision which would be made for debating the annual report of the activities of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industrial Development. We have had this report for three months, and many of us would like to debate not only what is being done but the appropriateness of some of my right hon. Friend's activities at a time when it is necessary to restrain public expenditure. Is there any prospect of an early debate on this important report?

Mr. Prior

I do not think so. Matters relevant to this sort of subject would have been in order during the debate on the Queen's Speech, and there will be other occasions on which they will be relevant. I cannot at the moment promise time for a debate on this specific report.

Dr. David Owen

Does the Leader of the House consider that he is responsible for the conduct of Ministers who make statements outside this House and for correcting them if they are shown to be wrong? If so, will he study the statements relating to the October trade figures, which are most unsatisfactory? I have in mind especially the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, whose statement about imports of precious stones was positively misleading. Is not it time that the record was put straight and that the Secretary of State took the earliest opportunity to explain to the House the real deficit on the balance of payments and the real implications of it and discontinued his practice of attempting to escape his responsibility in misleading statements outside this House?

Mr. Prior

These matters will be relevant on Monday.

Mr. Shore

Although we welcome every opportunity to discuss European Community affairs, can the Leader of the House say, with regard to the debate a week on Monday, whether he intends to give it any specific focus on, for example, the regional policies of the EEC or the reform of the common agricultural policy? If so, will he arrange matters with his colleagues so that we get a firm statement of Government policy arising out of recent discussions in the EEC before the debate takes place?

Mr. Prior

I should like to consider the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. It was the Government's intention that my right hon. Friend who is responsible for regional development should take part in the debate and that the debate should largely focus on the regional policies of the EEC. I thought that it might be for the convenience of hon. Members to raise wider issues than that and that the debate would best take place on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. I shall consider further what the right hon. Gentleman has said to see whether some statement can be made in advance in order to give more focus to the debate.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on very soon. But I shall call the three hon. Members who have been rising throughout Business Questions. Mr. David Clark.

Mr. David Clark

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Early Day Motion No. 11 dealing with successor parish councils?

[That the Local Government (Successor Parishes) Order 1973 (S.I., 1973, No. 1110), dated 22nd June 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th June, in the last session of Parliament, be withdrawn.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that we shall have an opportunity to debate this topic before too long?

Mr. Prior

I accept that we must have a debate on this matter. I think I am right in saying that more successor parish councils will be reported on in the coming few days. It might be as well to debate them all in 10 days' or a fortnight's time.

Mr. Marks

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Early Day Motion No. 47 and declare an interest as a former teacher in doing so? It calls for the Government to reduce the rate of contributions by teachers to their superannuation fund from 6¾ per cent. to 6 per cent.

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to reduce the contribution by the teachers to their superannuation scheme from 6¾. per cent. to 6 per cent. in line with most other public service schemes; and to allow at least half of their war service to be credited to their pension contributions as in the case of the Civil Service.]

It has been signed by more than 130 Opposition hon. Members and it is supported by a similar motion in the names of a number of Government supporters. This matter is causing great resentment among teachers. Are we likely to have an opportunity to debate it at an early date?

Mr. Prior

These issues were dealt with in the House by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science on Monday and Tuesday. I cannot add further to what he said then.

Mr. William Hamilton

Reverting to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) about the wages and conditions of staff in this House, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to ensure that hon. Members can at least raise Questions on this matter on the Floor of the House? Is he aware that when we take Questions into the Table Office we are met with a quotation from a blocking answer given by the right hon. Gentleman or his predecessor which is grossly unsatisfactory? It is very important that we should give the full light of publicity to the quite scandalous conditions which exist among our employees.

Mr. Prior

I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman said in the latter part of his question, nor do I think it would be wise for the House to conduct this kind of wage bargaining process about its own employees on the Floor of the House. I do not think that is what Parliament is about.