HC Deb 22 November 1973 vol 864 cc1553-62
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 26TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Bill.

Motion relating to the Statement of Change in Immigration Rules for Control on Entry of EEC and other non-Commonwealth Nationals.

TUESDAY 27TH NOVEMBER—Debate on European Community affairs, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

WEDNESDAY 28TH NOVEMBER—Supply (2nd Allotted Day).

Until 7 o'clock there will be a debate on an Opposition Motion on teachers' pensions, and afterwards on an Opposition motion on Chile.

THURSDAY 29TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill.

Remaining stages of the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Bill.

FRIDAY 30TH NOVEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 3RD DECEMBER—Supply (3rd Allotted Day).

Debate on a motion to take note of the eight reports from the Committee of Public Accounts in Session 1972–73, and the related departmental reports.

Mr. Wilson

On Tuesday's business, the right hon. Gentleman will know that we should have preferred a debate on an early day motion that we are tabling, although I gather from what he announced that it will not be possible for us to move it.

On an entirely separate question, on behalf of those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who will not this afternoon be seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, in the debate on Northern Ireland, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to express to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on behalf of those of us who will not be speaking our congratulations and delight at what he was able to announce last night?

Mr. Prior

I think that the whole House will wish to join in the kind remarks of the right hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend. I am very grateful to him for those remarks.

The European Community affairs day has been arranged primarily to allow views to be expressed about regional policy before the Council meeting on 3rd and 4th December. However, the form of debate will also give an opportunity to those who wish to raise other issues, such as the common agricultural policy.

Dame Irene Ward

Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that I might require to ask him to let me have a debate on when an order will be laid for the Kielder Dam, since it is urgent that we should get such an order and I have seen two rather contradictory statements—one yesterday by the Secretary of State for the Environment, which differed considerably from something said by another Minister in his Department? As the order is needed to provide the water for industry, I may have to explode if I cannot get a satisfactory answer.

Mr. Prior

Anything to prevent that from happening. If I can help my hon. Friend to avoid that situation, I will get in touch with her.

Mr. Ford

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Early Day Motion No. 49, calling for the setting up of a Select Committee to consider a petition? Will he provide Government time for a debate on the motion so as to stop further bitterness building up on the matter?

[That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the presentation of an humble Address to the Crown praying for the dismissal of Sir John Donaldson, High Court judge and President of the National Industrial Relations Court, by reason of his Court's action in sequestrating £75,000 from the political fund of the engineering section of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, which is the fund as laid down by section 3, subsection 3, of the Trade Union Act 1913, and not the fund used for the day-to-day operation of the Union, and thereby ensuring that the punishment was solely inflicted on the Union's political activities, namely, support given to the Labour Party and financial assistance rendered to the constituency parties of the Members of Parliament who are also members of that union for their election campaigns and routine organisation, because, if Sir John Donaldson was not aware of this action, he is guilty of gross negligence and incompetence and if he was aware then it was an act of political prejudice and partiality.]

Mr. Prior

I notice that many hon. Members have signed the motion, and also that there is an amendment to it which says: this House recognises as a fundamental requisite of the rule of law in a democratic society that the judiciary is independent of all political pressure". I certainly cannot find time for it in the next few weeks.

Mr. Powell

Will my right hon. Friend continue his search for an early opportunity to debate the recent report of the Select Committee on Immigration and Race Relations, especially in view of the disturbing evidence of grave under-enumeration by the Census?

Mr. Prior

Yes, I am continuing that search, and I know that the House will wish to debate that report at a reasonably early date.

Mr. McBride

Returning to Early Day Motion No. 49, would the right hon. Gentleman consider the serious legal position which arises in the sequestration of trade union funds which are protected by law? Is he aware that the motion, signed by 120 of my right hon. and hon. Friends, views with great concern the political attack on the Labour Party and its finances? We think that this attack is unjust and that a charge of incompetence against a judge of the High Court merits urgent and full discussion in the House.

Mr. Prior

I have nothing to add to the statement I have already made about finding time for this subject.

Mr. Money

Would my right hon. Friend have a look, as he said last Session he would, at the arrangements for organised delegations to the House, which are becoming totally impossible and verging on the farcical?

Mr. Prior

I am not quite certain what my hon. Friend is getting at. Could he explain a little further?

Mr. Money

Mass lobbying.

Mr. Prior

I should like to look at that. The problem in recent months, and particularly, of course, in recent weeks, has been security. However, if hon. Members have other views that they would like to put to me or through the Services Committee, then of course we can have a further look at this important matter.

Mr. Michael Foot

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the method of debate proposed for Tuesday is quite unsatisfactory. To have general, vague debates on matters of European economic policy, in which Ministers cannot be called to account for detailed actions and on detailed Votes, is no substitute for specific debates. We must have debates in which matters are specific. Does he not agree that it will have an even worse effect if the Government refuse to debate specific motions tabled by the Opposition and go ahead in taking action on that basis in Europe? Does he not think that the unsatisfactory character of this debate emphasises the urgent necessity for the Government to give their views on the report of the Select Committee which has examined this matter?

Mr. Prior

I do not regard the two matters as in any way related. I recognise that the House will want to come to an early decision on the Select Committee's report, and I shall arrange for this to take place. That is a totally separate matter from the debate which we have arranged for Tuesday next week—namely, a debate, in answer to a request from various sectors of the House, on Common Market affairs. If the form of the debate does not suit the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and his hon. Friends, it is up to them to table a motion for a debate on another day in their own time. It appears to me that they want the best of every possible world: they want to be able to vote on a little issue of their own choosing, and at the same time they do not want to divide themselves on the main issue.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention 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.]

In view of recent developments can my right hon. Friend find time for a short debate on that matter next week or in the near future?

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend has asked me about that matter once or twice in recent weeks. I am afraid that I cannot give him any more satisfaction this week than I have in answer to earlier business questions. However, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to see whether there is anything further he can do.

Mr. David Watkins

May I press the Leader of the House on Early Day Motion No. 49? That motion relates to the unsuitability of Sir John Donaldson to be president of the Industrial Relations Court. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that 132 Opposition Members have already signed that motion. In view of this unprecedented declaration by hon. Members of this House of no confidence in a High Court judge, should not the Leader of the House treat this as a matter of urgency to be resolved quickly?

Mr. Prior

I do not think necessarily the form of the motion makes it any more desirable that it should be debated in this House. I see no time available for debate of this nature. There is one course open to Labour Members on this matter. If they feel that a debate would not be very satisfactory—and I certainly think it would not be satisfactory—they could withdraw the motion.

Mr. John Wells

With reference to the debate on Wednesday on the subject of Chile, will my right hon. Friend say whether it will be in order to discuss the unpalatable rumour that a large number of Chilean "commie" anarchists are seeking refuge in this country, on which they have no claim whatever?

Mr. Prior

Luckily for me, it is not for me to say what will be in order for the debate on Wednesday, but I imagine that the motion will be drawn fairly widely.

Mr. Faulds

In view of the speculation as to where the new Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mrs. MacDonald) will sit, may I, through the Lord President of the Council, extend an invitation to her to join a fellow Scot and to sit right here beside me on the back benches?

Mr. Prior

I think that she will certainly do something to brighten up the Opposition benches.

Mr. Body

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the White Paper on public exenditure will be published and how soon afterwards we shall a debate upon it?

Mr. Prior

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Chief Sectary said earlier in the week. It will be published within about a month. I do not think this will give us time for a debate before Christmas. However, I give an assurance that it will be debated as soon as we return after Christmas.

Mr. Ross

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the Government intend to give the House an opportunity to have a full discussion of the Kilbrandon Report?

Mr. Prior

It is a little early yet to say. We have had the report for just under a month. This is a subject which the House will wish to debate, but I believe that we should carry out a few consultations before we reach that stage.

Mr. Dell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that among the reports to be discussed on Monday week will be the Public Accounts Committee report on North Sea oil and gas? In that connection, it would be useful to know in advance what the Government intend to do in their Bill about exploitation of the United Kingdom continental shelf. Can he arrange for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, perhaps next Monday, to make some announcement on the contents of that Bill—or do the Government not yet know what they propose to do?

Mr. Prior

I do not think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will be ready by Monday next, or by the following week, to make the announcement which the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) requests. The best thing to do is to allow the debate to go forward so that we may listen to the views expressed in the House.

Mr. Ashton

Is the Leader of the House aware that on only four occasions since 1805 has a motion been placed on the Order Paper attacking a High Court judge for political bias? On that occasion Judge McClennan resigned because of the stigma thus caused. This is a serious motion, signed by 132 Members of Parliament. Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that in view of the rarity of this matter it should be debated by the House to put the judge either in the clear or out of his misery?

Mr. Prior

I do not think the rarity of a motion on the Order Paper necessarily makes it any more essential that it should be debated. This is not a matter which the House should take lightly. I can see no possibility of the Government providing time to debate a motion of this sort, and I wish to make no further comment on the matter.

Mr. Marten

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early Day Motion No. 48?

[That this House welcomes the assurance given by the Prime Minister on 13th November 1973 that consideration is being given to suspending the 8 per cent. tax on imported lamb; and, anxious to prevent any avoidable increase in food prices, urges Her Majesty's Government not to introduce those increases in tariffs and duties on imported foodstuffs arising out of Great Britain's membership of the Common Market, particularly those due to be introduced on or after 1st January 1974.]

That motion has been signed by a number of my hon. Friends and myself and is a genuine attempt to try to help the Government not to increase the price of food by putting on unnecessary taxes and tariffs. May we have a statement shortly on the success of the Government in their approach to the Common Market to stop these taxes being imposed?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir, but all these matters will be relevant in the debate on Tuesday. I know my hon. Friend's keen interest in helping the Government out of embarrassing situations over the Common Market.

Mr. James Johnson

What is the right hon. Gentleman's attitude towards giving hon. Members Government time in which to debate fisheries? Since there have been no subsidies, it appears that we are being given no opportunity to debate deep-sea fishing and other matters. Does this mean that we shall lose all official opportunities to debate the finances of the fishing industry?

Mr. Prior

Our old occasions for debates on the fishing industry seem to have gone. I shall consider whether we can make arrangements to debate this important issue. I can see no hope of an immediate debate, but it is a matter which shall bear in mind.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Godber—statement.

Mr. Orme

On a point of order. I wish to seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, in regard to the exchanges which took place on Motion No. 49 in regard to Sir John Donaldson. It is an extremely serious matter when a motion of censure is held over the head of a High Court judge. As a consequence, particularly in view of the past associations of this judge with the Conservative Party, is it not incumbent on the Government to give time to allow the matter to be debated and cleared up. Furthermore—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows quite well that he is not raising a point of order. This matter is nothing to do with the Chair. I do not control either Government time or Opposition time. It has nothing to do with me.

Mr. Orme

Further to that point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I was coming to the point of asking for your guidance on the presentation of articles of charge in this House, which have now fallen into disuse. Is it possible for hon. Members to present articles of charge in regard to this issue? Would you allow this to be done in this House next week?

Mr. Speaker

I should like to consider that matter, but I shall give a preliminary answer. The procedure mentioned by the hon. Gentleman is antiquated. [Interruption.] Order. I must be allowed to answer a point of order without interruption, from wherever it comes. The article of charge procedure was before the time when the time of the House was appropriated in the way in which it is under our Standing Orders. However, I shall look at the point.

Mr. Eadie

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to seek your assistance and guidance. At your discretion you decided to terminate questions to the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House proposes that in next week's business the remaining stages of the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Bill shall be taken on Thursday after other business. That means that the remaining stages of this very important Bill, born out of the emergency situation, will inevitably be taken very late at night. I believe that this House should have the opportunity to—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) is trying to get round the fact that I suspended questions on the business statement when I did. This is not a point of order. I had to conclude business questions. We have a statement and we have a very important debate on Northern Ireland to come, and I have to safeguard the time of the House. If an hon. Member is not able to ask his supplementary question before I suspend questions, he cannot be allowed to do so by way of a point of order. I am very sorry.

Mr. Eadie

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I suggest that we are in a unique situation. The nation is in an emergency situation. I believe that, because of that, the people's representatives are entitled to put a proposition to the Leader of the House. Therefore—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must obey the rulings of the Chair and act within the rules of order.

Mr. Ashton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—and it is a genuine point of order. You made a statement just now about articles of charge and you said that you would give your decision at a later date. As some of us might like to present arguments upon this and to bring along the appropriate law books, might we have some notice that this matter will be taken, say, next Tuesday or Wednesday so that we might prepare evidence on it?

Mr. Speaker

I am ready to have all the help that I can receive. Before making this ruling, certainly I shall receive any help that I can from anyone. I will not make the ruling in a hurry. I prefer to wait until I have received any submissions that anyone cares to make to me. However, I do not think that this is a point of order. It is a point of helpfulness, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton).