HC Deb 18 October 1973 vol 861 cc409-17
Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the last week of this Session?

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 22nd October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.

TUESDAY 23rd October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Maplin Development Bill, and any others which may be received.

Motions on the Northern Ireland Orders on Land Acquisition and Compensation, and Finance.

Proceedings on the Powers of Criminal Courts Bill (Lords), which is a Consolidation Measure.

Motions on the Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) Regulations.

Motion to approve the Sixth Report from the House of Commons (Services) Committee on The Landscaping of New Palace Yard.

WEDNESDAY 24th October—Debate on an Opposition motion on The United Kingdom Imports of Cane Sugar.

Motions on the Salaries of the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Motion on the Local Government (Successor Parishes) Order.

THURSDAY 25th October—Motion to approve the White Paper on The Channel Tunnel Project (Command No. 5430).

Subject to progress of business, Prorogation will then take place.

The House may wish to be reminded, Mr. Speaker, that the new Session is due to be opened on Tuesday, 30th October.

Mr. Wilson

Dealing first with Tuesday's business, I note that the last item announced by the Leader of the House relates to the Report of the Services Committee on the landscaping of New Palace Yard. I hope that the House will take this matter a good deal more seriously on this occasion than it did when it was last slipped through.

Secondly, may I ask the Leader of the House to confirm that we look like reaching the end of the Session with a continuing debt from the Government to the Opposition in the matter of Supply Days? We have caught up a little on the numbers transferred from the previous session, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that we carry something forward into the next Session and that this time will be available to us.

My third question is still more serious. Today we are to debate the fighting in the Middle East. I ask the right hon. Gentleman no more than this: will he bear in mind that there could be developments, good or grave, in the course of the next few days which might require a further debate in this House on the Middle East? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should not put the House in such a position that from today onwards there is no question of debating the Middle East until we are well launched into the debate in two weeks' time on the Gracious Speech and that he will be prepared to take even emergency measures in order to find time for a debate next week? The right hon. Gentleman will recall that at the time of Suez, where admittedly the British Government were in a state of armed conflict, we carried on the pre-Prorogation debates right up to the day before the opening of Parliament. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that if necessary the Government will be prepared to make the required arrangements for a debate at that time?

Mr. Prior

Dealing first with the right hon. Gentleman's final question, I am certain that it would be the wish of the Government not only to keep the House fully informed but if necessary to make any arrangements for a debate that the House might wish to have. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will want to refer to this in his speech.

Dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's other two questions, I recognise that there is some time still owing to the Opposition. We shall make the necessary arrangements for that to be carried forward.

As for New Palace Yard, our debate on Tuesday will relate to the design of the surface now that the car park is nearing completion. Certainly I should not wish to see the House get into the position of not knowing what is happening there, as was the position when the matter was last discussed.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have a list of about 45 right hon. and hon. Members who wish to take part in the important debate which is to follow. May I ask right hon. and hon. Members to ask only brief questions relating to next week's business?

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

May we have an indication from my right hon. Friend about when he expects to lay before us this year's public expenditure White Paper?

Mr. Prior

I cannot give any indication at the moment. I should have thought that it would be at the end of next month.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that it is proper for questions dealing with the business for next Session to be put to the right hon. Gentleman. We are dealing at the moment with next week's business only.

Mr. Ross

Reverting to Monday's business, does the Leader of the House think it fair to ask the House to consider Lords amendments to the Local Government (Scotland) Bill when the other place is still amending the Bill on Third Reading today, and bearing in mind that up to now more than 200 amendments have been made? Furthermore, will the Leader of the House bear in mind that all the amendments will not be printed in time? Some of them are very far reaching. For example, the other place defeated the Government on a very important matter relating to the main region of the Bill. We shall not have all the Lords amendments. We shall not know the Government's reaction to them. We shall not have the reprinted Bill. Is it fair to expect the House to deal with Lords amendments on Monday?

Mr. Prior

As I understand it, the Lords amendments will be printed this evening and will appear on tomorrow's Order Paper. That will give hon. Members an opportunity to study them and to table their own amendments in time for them to appear on Monday's Order Paper. I apologise for the short time available, but the Lords amendments will appear on tomorrow's Order Paper, and proposed amendments to those amendments can be tabled in time for them to be printed.

Mr. Ross

I do not believe that the Government themselves know what they intend to do. They are in such a mess. But the Leader of the House knows that if the Government wish the House to amend one of those Lords amendments, we shall not have an opportunity to see their proposed amendment until Monday. This is not a matter for the Leader of the House. It is one for you, Mr. Speaker. In view of the special circumstances, will manuscript amendments be accepted?

Mr. Prior

The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) is not correct. The Lords amendments and any amendments which the Government wish to make to them will be printed tonight and will appear on tomorrow's Order Paper. They will be subject to amendments proposed tomorrow by the Opposition, if they wish to do so, and those amendments will appear on Monday's Order Paper. They will he starred amendments.

Mr. Kimball

Arising out of the matters raised by the Leader of the Opposition, is my right hon. Friend aware not only of those remarks by the Leader of the Opposition but of the general feeling of disappointment on all sides of the House that there is not more time for general debates? Will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind in relation to any Standing Orders which he proposes to lay before the House next Session?

Mr. Prior

This is a difficult matter which I shall bear in mind. However, it refers to next Session, and I had better keep quiet about that.

Mr. Wellbeloved

In view of the fact that the Chairman of Ways and Means has set down for debate next Tuesday the suspension order on the Ashdown Forest Bill, will the Leader of the House reconsider the very heavy volume of business for Tuesday that he has just announced?

Mr. Prior

I am not certain that it is quite as heavy as it appears to be. However, I will consider what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Marten

In view of the strongly held views on the Channel Tunnel, does my right hon. Friend think it convenient to debate it on the last day of the Session? Would it not be better to leave it over until next Session?

Mr. Prior

We published the White Paper during the recess. That points out that a Bill has to be enacted to enable the financial provisions for the next stage of the tunnel to go ahead. I thought that it was for the convenience of the House that we should hace a general debate on the principle of the White Paper before proceeding to consider the further Bill which will have to come next Session.

Mr. Faulds

Since it is relevant to the excavations in New Palace Yard, when may we expect a report on the findings of those excavations both for the House and for the public?

Mr. Prior

I shall have to talk to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction about that. I note what the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) said, and I believe that it would be of interest to have that information available as soon as possible.

Mr. John Smith

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Early Day Motion No. 423 praying against the Museums and Galleries (Variation of Instruments) (Scotland) Order, which is the infamous attempt by the Government to disturb a number of wills governing certain pictures in the National Gallery of Scotland? Since I understand that the order is also technically defective and is about to be withdrawn by the Government, may we have an early announcement so that we know where we stand?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Museums and Galleries (Variation of Instruments) (Scotland) Order 1973 (S.1., 1973, No. 1274), dated 16th July 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 1st August, be annulled.]

Mr. Prior

There will be no opportunity to debate that Prayer next week. I can only suggest that we take stock in the next Session.

Mr. Sutcliffe

In view of next Thursday's debate, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend realises that the Government have not yet given the House a full explanation as to how a through rail service to all parts of the country, transferring a significant proportion of freight from road to rail, is technically and economically possible? This is a crucial aspect of the Channel Tunnel project. Why have we not yet got this information when we are being asked to pass legislation in two weeks, and four weeks from today we are due to sign an agreement with President Pompidou?

Mr. Prior

An enormous amount of information is available. I think that points such as those made by my hon. Friend are relevant to the debate. I will make certain that my right hon. Friend deals with them in full.

Mr. Michael Stewart

On Wednesday, when the Parliamentary Commissioner's salary is to be discussed, will there be time and will it be in order to discuss in general the Commissioner's work? I do not think that the House has done that since the office was created.

Mr. Prior

That may be a question more for you, Mr. Speaker, than for me. In so far as it is for me, I will check to see what is in order and let the right hon. Gentleman know. I imagine that the debate could go reasonably wide.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Why does not next week's business include a debate on agriculture? Does the Leader of the House appreciate that two years and four months have elapsed since we had the last debate on agriculture, which is a most important industry? Does he expect another two years and four months to elapse before the next debate on that industry?

Mr. Prior

The reason that there is no debate next week is that there is not time. I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend would welcome a debate on agriculture whenever the Opposition care to use their time to arrange one.

Mr. Ashley

While the £10 Christmas bonus for old-age pensioners is welcome, although grossly inadequate, may I ask whether the Leader of the House is aware that many severely disabled people and many on supplementary benefit are equally in very grave need? Will he consider with his colleagues giving the grant to those people or arrange a debate for next week?

Mr. Prior

I cannot arrange a debate for next week, but part of what the hon. Gentleman said would be in order in the debate tomorrow. I should point out that this Government introduced the allowances for disabled persons and that we have put up the pension each year by a total of 55 per cent.

Mr. Shore

Since the EEC's regional policy is not to be debated next week, may I have the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that there will be no agreement at the Council of Ministers before we have had a chance to debate this vital matter of the regulations, which are already in draft form?

Mr. Prior

I should want notice of that question.

Mr. Shore

This is an extremely important matter. I put it to the House that this month there is before the Council of Ministers, on the Government's own admission, a draft regulation on the shape of the European Community's regional policy, which is of immense significance to this country, and a financial regulation on how it is to be financed and how the money is to be spent. It is essential—[Interruption.] It will not go to the European Assembly. That is the last place to which it will go. It is essential that this vital matter should not be agreed before the House has had an opportunity of discussing it.

Mr. Prior

I understand that no dates are given for a decision on this matter on the paper referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. The whole question of regional policy in the EEC is a matter which the House will wish to debate. I know that right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House will be very glad to take part in that debate. There will be plenty of time for that matter to be debated before final decisions are taken.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted notice of that question. He has now had two or three minutes to think about it. Surely even the Prime Minister with his traditional contempt for this House—[Interruption.] If he disagrees he can get up and give us the answer now. Surely he will agree that no decision must be taken which is in any way binding upon this House unless there has been a debate in this Chamber first.—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about the European Assembly?"]—The Strasbourg Assembly is irrelevant to this matter. My right hon. and hon. Friends look after the interests of their constituents in this House. What matters is this House and the Council of Ministers. May we now have a clear assurance that no decision will be taken in the name of this country until the matter has first been debated in this House?

Mr. Prior

It is very hard for me at the Dispatch Box, without the details before me, to answer this question directly. However, I will certainly look at the proposals which have been put forward and if I have anything else to add, other than that no final decision will be reached until there has been a debate in this House, I will report to the House tomorrow.

Sir Gilbert Longden

Reverting to the question by the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), is it not rather extraordinary that we should be asked to discuss the salary of the Parliamentary Commissioner before the House has had an opportunity of discussing his work? Could not this be put off to the next Session?

Mr. Prior

This is another matter that perhaps I could look at.

Mr. Alfred Morris

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Secretary of State for Social Services has now received the report of Baroness Sharp's inquiry into the vehicle service for disabled people. If this important matter is not to be debated next week, may we have a definite assurance that it will be debated at a very early opportunity?

Mr. Prior

That is obviously not for this Session.