HC Deb 23 February 1972 vol 831 cc1297-9
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I briefly explain revised arrangements for business. I start by making my apologies to the House for the exceptionally short notice, and responding to the point that this House is properly jealous of any such move ever being taken. It is being taken, as the Leader of the Opposition said, only in response to very exceptional circumstances. I fully accept that.

It is proposed that the defence debate should be adjourned at seven o'clock to allow my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to seek leave to bring in the Northern Ireland Bill, which the House will then be invited to approve. I should perhaps confirm to the Leader of the Opposition that similar arrangements are being made in another place, if this House approves the Bill, for it also to be passed through that House as urgently as possible.

I also confirm what the Home Secretary said, that of course I am prepared to have discussions through the usual channels to decide when it might be suitable to have a wider debate on th subjects concerned.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I thank the Leader of the House for the spirit in which he has made his statement. It is a matter on which the House is extremely jealous. As we would expect, he is extremely sensitive to what the House would feel about this matter.

I think that all the points which I should want to make have been made in my exchanges with the Home Secretary, although some of my hon. Friends, not to mention Ulster Unionist Members, will undoubtedly have points of their own which they may wish to make later. However, if the constituents of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) did not know that he was here, they will "ken the noo".

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Leader of the House aware that we are fully satisfied that he is apprised that the House would like to have the transcript as soon as possible? That indication being given, I think the House would leave it to him. May I ask what his intentions are if the Bill is given a Second Reading and a Third Reading and goes to another place? Is it the intention that this House should be in suspended animation until the Bill comes back from another place? What is the procedural arrangement that he has in mind for that contingency?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the first point, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that we shall do our very best about the summary. I shall certainly do everything in my power. I cannot pretend to be an expert at photostatting and I do not know how long it takes or what can be done, but everything that can be done will be done.

On the second point, there are some orders on the Order Paper which could be taken after this Bill. That should suffice to meet the point which the right hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hon. Friend consider a suspension for an hour tomorrow night to allow for a full debate on defence, because there is a tendency for defence debates to be concentrated on Ulster and the wider issues tend to be obscured?

Mr. Whitelaw

This is a matter which can be discussed through the usual channels. If throughout the House there is a widespread desire for such a course, of course I shall consider it.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

With reference to the transcript of the proceedings in Belfast, would it not be adequate if several copies were made available in the Library for hon. Members to see them there?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am no expert in these matters, but I will do my best to make the best possible arrangements.