HC Deb 29 November 1973 vol 865 cc598-607
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 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. Proceedings on the International Sugar Organisation Bill.

TUESDAY 4TH DECEMBER—Supply (4th Allotted Day): Opposition motion on the INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS Act 1971 and its damaging consequences. Motion on the Grenada Termination of Association Order.

WEDNESDAY 5TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Channel Tunnel Bill. Motion on the Companies (Fees) Regulations.

THURSDAY 6TH DECEMBERD—Debate on immigration and race relations, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Motions on the Northern Ireland Orders relating to Local Government Reorganisation, Emergency Provisions, and Appropriation (No. 3).

FRIDAY 7TH DECEMBER—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY 10TH DECEMBER—Until Seven o'clock. Private Members' Motions. Afterwards, motion to approve the Sixth Report of the House of Commons (Services) Committee, 1972–73, on the landscaping of NEW PALACE YARD.

Mr. Wilson

Now that the Government have published at £4.15 this volume, Import Duties (General) (No. 8) Order 1973, which is really a manual of inflation setting out the harmonisation of British tariffs with the EEC and will have a serious effect on food prices and inflation generally, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake that we shall have a full debate in Government time of these very far-reaching changes in taxation which will affect every household in the land?

Mr. Prior

Without accepting the preamble to what the right hon. Gentleman said I would say that some tariffs are up and some are down under this order. No Prayer has so far been tabled on this order, but if one is tabled perhaps we can then consider how best to proceed.

Mr. Wilson

I did not understand the last words of the right hon. Gentleman. Clearly, it would not be good enough to have a debate on a Prayer lasting one-and-a-half hours at the end of the day. Am I to understand the right hon. Gentleman's last words to mean that if a Prayer is tabled he will be prepared to have talks through the usual channels to see whether a longer debate in Government time can be provided? Is that what he meant?

Mr. Prior

I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that in the immediate future the opportunities for a debate during the course of the day are very strictly limited. There is at the moment some free time after 10 o'clock, and we shall have to consider how best to use the time that we have available.

Mr. Wilson

This really is not good enough. This is a very voluminous and important document affecting the cost of living of every family in the land. Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not really think that he can sneak it through after 10 o'clock at night without a full debate. If he has got his timetable into a mess, that is no responsibility of the House or of those who will suffer under this volume.

Mr. Prior

I do not accept in any way what the right hon. Gentleman has said. But, as regards a debate, no Prayer relating to this order has so far been tabled. We can discuss this matter through the usual channels, but I must warn the House that the time between now and the Christmas Recess is very limited.

Dame Irene Ward

May I ask my right hon. Friend, as he was so kind in saying last Thursday that he would look at the matter of the future of the Kielder Dam, when we might expect an order? I am very grateful to him, and I shall be glad to know whether he can now tell me when an order will be laid.

Mr. Prior

No, I cannot yet tell my hon. Friend when an order will be laid, because my inquiries are not complete. But I can assure her that I have made inquiries and am continuing to make inquiries, and am pressing the matter very strongly.

Mr. Spearing

Is the Leader of the House aware that between now and the end of the month the generalised scheme of preferences for the EEC has to be agreed? Will he now undertake that there will be time between now and the end of this sitting to debate that matter in this House, in view of the fact that he has kindly given us three hours on Monday to debate the landscaping of New Palace Yard?

Mr. Prior

I will consider what the hon. Gentleman has said. Is he asking for more time for what his right hon. Friend has already asked me about this afternoon? If so, I must give him the same reply.

Mr. Spearing


Mr. David Mitchell

Can my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that there will be adequate time for a Prayer on the Local Government (Successor Parishes) Order?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. I have promised that there will be time for a Prayer on this important order. I hope that it may be possible to have it the week after next.

Mr. Marks

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the proceedings of Standing Committee A on the Local Government Bill? The presentation of this Bill has been greatly delayed by the Government, and, apparently, the Government now expect the Committee to get through its work in three-and-a-half weeks, although local authorities and hon. Members have not had sufficient time to consider it. Will he see to it that the Committee gets adequate time, and that there will be at least a two-day Report stage on this Bill?

Mr. Prior

I am certain that the Committee will have all the time it requires. I think it is a little unfair to say that there has not been consultation on this Bill with local authorities, because consultation has been going on for a very long while.

Mr. Ronald Bell

The Import Duties (General) (No. 8) Order clearly cannot be debated in one-and-a-half hours but it should be debated before 1st January. So can my right hon. Friend say whether his reference to a shortage of time during the day between now and Christmas relates also to Opposition Supply Days, or whether a Supply Day could be used for that purpose before the Christmas Recess? If so, will he use his influence with the Opposition, which is very great, to ensure that that happens?

Mr. Prior

Without in any way wishing to comment on the latter part of what my hon. and learned Friend has said, there are Supply Days and, of course, they are available for any subject which the Opposition like to put down.

Mr. Maclennan

Can the Leader of the House say in what form, and when, the Government will make known their preliminary thinking upon the Kilbrandon Report? Also, shall we have a statement on this report prior to a general debate in the House?

Mr. Prior

I should like to consider what the hon. Gentleman has said, but, at the moment, we think we should give a period for quiet consultation and discussion of the Kilbrandon Report before the Government make any statement to the House and before we consider having a debate.

Mr. Michael Shaw

While welcoming the preservation and development of existing railway lines, certainly in my own constituency, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend realises that there are worrying implications with regard to the development of certain very necessary roads in the north of Yorkshire? In particular, there ought to be a statement as early as possible giving a firm date for the much-delayed and very vital Malton bypass.

Mr. Prior

This is a matter which I will bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend. All I can tell my hon. Friend is that I notice that everyone is much in favour of cutting Government expenditure in general, until it relates to something in their own constituency.

Mr. Orme

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the early day motion on the conduct of Sir John Donaldson and requesting a Select Committee?

[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.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it has now attracted 180 signatures and, with the amendment, a total of 314—virtually 50 per cent. of the elected Members? Because of this pressure and interest within the House and in the country, does he not feel that the Government are obliged to give him time so that this matter may be fully debated and resolved by the House?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir ; I do not think that the Government are obliged to give time for this motion.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday—I make no criticism of your decision—you ruled that we should not discuss the new security situation in Northern Ireland. Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday the Secretary of State was discussing this matter with politicians in Northern Ireland, who are not now, unfortunately, responsible for security, whereas no Northern Ireland Minister—although one was present on the Treasury Bench—made any statement to this House? Will my right hon. Friend make a statement next week on the improvement of the means by which this House may be kept informed of the security of Northern Ireland, for which it is responsible?

Mr. Prior

I think that there will be certain opportunities for debates on Northern Ireland matters in the near future. I will convey what my hon. Friend has said to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Jay

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the import duties order involves a whole budget of tax changes, including a number of food taxes? Would it not be outrageous to have less than at least one day's debate on this matter?

Mr. Prior

This is a matter which could be debated as a Prayer, or other time could be found for it. All that I am telling the House is that I can see no early prospect of a debate in Government time. I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell).

Mr. Farr

May I remind my right hon. Friend that it is nearly four years since the House had a general debate on agriculture, which we used to debate annually, a month or two before the price review? Could he make arrangements for an early general debate on this subject? Second, in view of the transport difficulties, can he yet give the House some idea when the Christmas Recess is likely to begin?

Mr. Prior

I will try to make an announcement about the date of the recess in my business statement next week. I see no chance of a debate on agriculture in Government time in the near future. If my recollection serves me aright, debates on agriculture have nearly always been in Supply time.

Mr. Freeson

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is now one and a half years since the Secretary of State for the Environment announced to the House the Government's intention to introduce legislation within a matter of months to deal with the scandal of office blocks being left empty in London— such as Centre Point—to gain massive capital values? When can we expect a statement from the Government on what action they intend to take, bearing in mind that the capital values have now become an incredible and obscene scandal—having risen from £25 million to £48 million during the period that we have been waiting?

Mr. Prior

Some of these matters are relevant to the Committee stage of a Bill which is now in Standing Committee. As regards the other matters the hon. Member has raised, I will report them to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Adam Butler

While one recognises the pressure of business on the House between now and the recess, could my right hon. Friend nevertheless fit in a debate on energy policy? If not, can he assure us that he will allow an opportunity for a debate before the final decision on nuclear reactors is taken?

Mr. Prior

I think that my right hon. Friend has given an assurance to the House that he would like there to be a debate before a final decision is reached, and I will certainly look at that question again. I must warn the House that the time between now and the Christmas Recess is very fully booked. We have already had a number of general debates this Session, with more to come. But, unless we are to leave breaking up for the recess until Christmas Day itself, we shall have to make some sacrifices.

Mr. C. Pannell

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot find time for the motion on the question of the President of the National Industrial Relations Court, will he represent to the Lord Chancellor that it is undesirable that the president of that court should make proclamations outside the court on matters which might be subject to appeal, in the way that he commented on his findings in the court to a meeting of accountants in Glasgow last week? This is most extraordinary, and The Guardian has referred to it as "bending the law". Will he look into that matter?

Mr. Prior

I must say that it is undesirable that this House, unless on a substantive motion that it wishes to debate—[AN HON. MEMBER : "You have one"]—should enter into this sort of controversy with regard to the law, which we have always tried to keep separate from operations of this House.

Mr. John Wells

Can my right hon. Friend see to it that the motion on the day when we are discussing the grass patch in New Palace Yard is drawn sufficiently widely so that all domestic matters of the House can be discussed—for instance, the absurdity by which, at great public expense, a lot of curtains have been put up in the last few days in the HANSARD cubicles on the North Bridge and the young ladies who work there, arriving for the first time this morning, have removed them all?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir ; if we did allow debate to range that wide, we should get into the most ridiculous state of affairs discussing all these things on the Floor of the House. But I will note what my hon. Friend has said and see whether the Services Committee has any views on this point.

Mr. Ashton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are more than 300 signatures to Early Day Motion No. 49 regarding Sir John Donaldson? Is it not a dangerous state of affairs that a judge's character should be impugned in this way without his having a chance to defend himself before a Select Committe? Should not the right hon. Gentleman set up a Select Committee to look at the motion?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. As I said last week, I think there is a lot to be said for the motion being taken off the Order Paper.

Mr. Faulds

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, on a previous Thursday afternoon, he seemed to promise to expedite publication of the archaeological findings on the excavations in New Palace Yard? May we have these before Monday?

Mr. Prior

I will certainly see whether I can obtain that information for the hon. Gentleman. I know that an undertaking was given that we would try to obtain the necessary information, and I will try to follow it up. We have a few days before the debate takes place—it docs not take place until Monday week—so I will see what I can do.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the motion debatable tomorrow week calling on the Government to renew the right of individual petition to the European Commission on Human Rights?

[To call attention to Her Majesty's Government's failure up to the present time to renew the right of individual petition to the European Commission on Human Rights; and to move, That this House, mindful of the importance of safeguarding the rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizen, and conscious that the right of individual petition under Article 25 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is an essential part of the machinery for safeguarding those rights and freedoms, calls upon Her Majesty's Government forthwith to declare that the United Kingdom recognises, without limitation as to period, the competence of the European Commission to receive individual petitions against the United Kingdom under Article 25.]

Will a statement be made as to the Government's intentions this coming week? If not, when?

Mr. Prior

I must confess that I have not seen that motion. I will look into it and either write to the hon. and learned Gentleman or see that a statement is made.

Mr. Moate

Is it the Government's intention, ever, to seek approval of their White Paper on metrication?

Mr. Prior

We had a debate on metrication in the last Session. We have also since then had one or two orders on metrication which seemed to me to meet with the approval of the House. I therefore presume that my hon. Friend is reasonably satisfied.

Mr. Michael Foot

When does the right hon. Gentleman propose to fulfil his promise that we should have an early debate on the report of the Select Committee examining European legislation? Does he not appreciate that the necessity for that debate is made all the greater by his extraordinary answers about the possibility of a debate on the import duties order? On consideration, will he not agree that it would be impossible for this House to agree to depart for Christmas if we had not had a full debate on the wide range of new food taxes which are to be introduced on 1st January, and that it would be utterly impossible for the House—certainly, I am sure that the Opposition would refuse—to deal with this matter in the trivial amount of time that he has suggested? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in making such a suggestion he merely appears to indicate that he has not understood at all what was the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee on this subject? Will he, therefore, give us an assurance now that we shall have an early debate on the Select Committee's report and a full debate on the order which the Government—not the Opposition—are presenting to the House?

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman is at fault here. The Prayer which we have discussed and the matters to which he has just alluded about the increase and reduction of tariffs are consequent upon our joining the EEC and are not, strictly speaking, European secondary legislation, which was the purpose of the considerations upstairs of the Select Committee. I have given an undertaking that the report of the Select Committee will be debated fully before Christmas. I think it would be for the convenience of the House if all the evidence were available before we had that debate. I understand that some of the evidence will not be printed and available until next week, and after that we can consider a suitable time for debate.