HC Deb 02 May 1974 vol 872 cc1332-7
Mr. Heath

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. Edward Short)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 6th May—Second Reading of the Housing Bill.

TUESDAY 7th May—Second Reading of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill.

Motions on the weights and measures orders on dentifrices—which I understand is toothpaste—and sale of wine.

WEDNESDAY 8th May—Supply (4th Allotted day): There will be a debate on Agriculture, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 9th May—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

FRIDAY 10th May—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 13th May—Supply (5th Allotted day): There will be a debate on Defence, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mr. Heath

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect to bring forward proposals for the register of Members' interests?

Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House the position about the production of HANSARD, and what action he, as Leader of the House, is taking to ensure that Members receive their copies at the right time?

Mr. Short

I hope next week to send to the parties proposals for a register, and I further hope that the House will be able to debate the matter before the Whitsun Recess. This is a matter for the House of Commons, but the matter ought to go to the political parties first for their consideration.

I regret the difficulties over HANSARD. As my right hon. Friend said, there is a printing dispute. but I hope very much that HANSARD will come out later today.

Mr. Heath

The House knows that various proposals to deal with a register of Members' interests have been put to the parties through the usual channels, and that in so far as they concern the parties these have been passed back to the Leader of the House. Has not the time come for the Government to come forward with such proposals as they think right, to let everybody see them and then to have a debate?

Mr. Short

That is what I said. They will be sent to the parties next week through the usual channels, and I hope that we can debate the matter in the House. Sending them through the usual channels is the same as sending them to individual Members. I hope that the parties will discuss the matter with all their members, and that the House will discuss the issue before the recess.

Mr. Heath

I hesitate to press this matter further, but there is a point here. We have party mechanisms, or most of us have, whereby we can discuss this matter. These have been used. Has not the time now come when the Government should put on the Order Paper what they are proposing and let it be a matter for debate?

Mr. Short

I take the view that this is a very special matter on which Members in all parties should have the right to express a view before it comes to that.

Mr. Whitehead

Have not recent events made it conspicuously clear that, when these proposals have been put before the House, nothing other than a compulsory public register will be satisfactory? Does my right hon. Friend further accept that this would be to the benefit and the interest of not only those who have no outside interest to declare and can afford to be sanctimonious but also those who have been harried by disclosure and innuendo, as he has recently been, and no doubt other Members will be in the future?

Mr. Short

I agree very much that this is a matter which should be decided by the House on a free vote—and not only the content of the proposals but whether the register is to be compulsory or voluntary.

Sir David Renton

Regarding the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill, will the Leader of the House put down a motion next week that the Bill should be referred to a Standing Committee or will he give an undertaking that, in view of its great importance, the Committee stage of the Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Short

I propose to table a motion that the Bill be referred to a Standing Committee.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does not my right hon. Friend recognise that some of us agree with the comment of the Leader of the Opposition about Members' interests? Does he not agree that the Labour Party has made its views very clear, that it wants nothing other than a compulsory public register, and that it shall be—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who says so?"] I am saying that. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) should keep cool. It is a very unusual occasion. I am agreeing with the Leader of the Opposition to the extent that this matter ought not to be delayed further by referring it to the separate parties. The Labour Party—the Government—should take the advice of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and produce their own proposals based on our party policy decisions, which would mean a compulsory register, including coverage of the other place—because if there is any corruption in Parliament it is along there rather than here.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Yes, indeed. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the Government should take their courage in their hands, accept the right hon. Gentleman's advice, produce their own proposals and let us have a free vote on the matter.

Mr. Short

I did not understand the Leader of the Opposition to say that he was in favour of a compulsory register. But I think that the House should decide by a free vote, first, whether the register is compulsory or voluntary, and, second, what Members are required to disclose—which raises the extremely difficult question of definition.

Mr. Jopling

Has the Leader of the House yet had an opportunity to study the report of the National Parks Policy Review Committee which was published at about Easter time? In view of the right hon. Gentleman's well-known interest in the Lake District, and the fact that he has a house in my constituency, will he give early and sympathetic consideration to a debate on this important report?

Mr. Short

I will look at this matter. It is a very important and interesting report, which I have read. I cannot promise a debate before Whitsuntide, but I shall look at the matter.

Mr. Molloy

For the record, will my right hon. Friend take into consideration the fact that, irrespective of the arguments there may be about Members holding interests outside the House, it was a distasteful and offensive remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) that those of us who take the view that our parliamentary salaries ought to be enough and feel that it is a great honour to be a Member of the House are necessarily, because of that view, sanctimonious? My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North is almost suggesting that it is offensive to be totally honest. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, on the Government side of the House, a decision has been made that is almost part of party policy—that it ought to be compulsory for Members to register their interests? Does not my right hon. Friend take the view that this ought to be the manner in which the matter should be debated, with one side of the House opposed to the other on the principles and policies of the parties?

Mr. Short

That is a point of view. But it should be decided by a free vote. "Sanctimonious" is the very last adjective that I would apply to either of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Marten

Reverting to the business for next week, may I ask whether the Leader of the House is aware that on Tuesday 7th May there is to be a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in Brussels? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on either Wednesday or Thursday of next week about the meeting, particularly in view of the important stage of the Common Market at present?

Mr. Short

I will convey the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

The Leader of the House must have noted that a substantive motion dissenting from a ruling of Mr. Speaker has now been on the Orders of the Day—not on the Early Day Motion Paper, as the right hon. Gentleman incorrectly stated in a letter to me—since 11th April. These motions are normally given time to be taken quickly on the Floor of the House, because they are the only redress that any Member has against bias or incompetence by the Chair. If the right hon. Gentleman denies time for such a motion, there is no redress whatever. This is a matter which affects every Member. When will the right hon. Gentleman give time for this matter to be debated?

Mr. Short

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have looked into this matter very carefully. I wrote to him about it. If I made a mistake in the terminology of my reply, I apologise for that. His motion has been down for some time. It has not attracted any support. It was for that reason that I decided not to give time to it. I am well aware of the understanding about not keeping motions of this kind on the Order Paper. But as the hon. Gentleman's motion attracted no support I felt it right not to give it time.

Mr. Peyton

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider making statements next week on, first, the timing of statements by Ministers, and, second, what part, if any, he intends to play in the forthcoming meeting of the Committee of Privileges?

Mr. Short

On the first point, the timing of all ministerial statements comes to me for comment, as the right hon. Gentleman knows quite well. On the second point, I propose to play the normal part played by Leaders of the House in that Committee.

Mr. Farr

What is the routine which is proposed this year to deal with the Finance Bill? In view of the state of Parliament, will it be possible for the Bill to have a greater amount of time on the Floor of the House to enable back benchers to make a greater contribution?

Mr. Short

I propose to put down the committal motion on Tuesday, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman would await that. Discussions are taking place about this matter. This will give the House two days to study it before the debates on the Finance Bill begin. The committal motion will be taken on the day of the Finance Bill, but there will be two clear days with a motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Heath

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman about one important matter, in view of what he has just said. Is it not true that the chairmanship of all committees, including that of Privileges, rests in the hands of Members of the committee itself?

Mr. Short

Of course. I did not say otherwise. What I said was that I am the Leader of the House and that I shall be a member of that committee and play the normal part played by Leaders of the House on that committee.