HC Deb 09 November 1972 vol 845 cc1193-204
Mr. Harold Wilson

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. James Prior)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 13TH NOVEMBER—Debate on a Motion to take note of the paper for discussion: "The Future of Northern Ireland".

Motions on the Northern Ireland Loans (Increase of Limits) Order and on the Anti-Dumping Duties (No. 2) Order.

TUESDAY, 14TH NOVEMBER, WEDNESDAY, 15TH NOVEMBER, and THURSDAY, 16TH NOVEMBER—Allocation of Time Motion on the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Bill, and consideration in Committee.

FRIDAY, 17TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Financial Provisions) Bill.

Motions on the Import Duties (Developing Countries) Order and on the Housing (Payments for Well Maintained Houses) Order.

MONDAY, 20TH NOVEMBER—Remaining stages of the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Bill.

Mr. Wilson

Leaving aside for one moment the question of the guillotine, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman about three early debates which arise out of the debate on the Address? First, on foreign affairs, does he recall that the Opposition agreed with the Government's proposals that we should not debate foreign affairs in the debate on the Address because of the well-understood absence of the Foreign Secretary but that we should have a debate as early as possible afterwards? Can he confirm that we shall get that at an early date? Secondly, he will recall that we pressed him for a debate on the new rules about immigration as well as certain immigration orders coming before the House dealing with Europe. May we have a debate on these, both in Government time? May we also have the regular Welsh affairs debate as early as possible?

Turning to the guillotine, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that the Government now seem to fall back on the guillotine with an unjustified regularity and that they do it on major constitutional matters, including matters for which they have no electoral mandate and, in this case, for which they have the reverse of an electoral mandate? Is he aware—I am sure that he is—that we have, even in this Session, been remarkably co-operative with the Government in getting important Government legislation through? In this connection I instance Northern Ireland. We have put forward proposals which would have saved Government time with legislation which was regarded as important. In view of this latest action with the guillotine and also—I have to put this to the right hon. Gentleman—the contempt with which the Prime Minister now seems to treat this House, is he aware that we can no longer offer to continue this kind of co-operation in our dealings with the Government?

Mr. Prior

I entirely accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about foreign affairs. In view of the business for next week, and probably the week after, it will be difficult to arrange a foreign affairs debate within the next fortnight. I entirely accept that we should have a foreign affairs debate at the earliest possible moment.

Turning to Welsh affairs, one or two of the dates proposed last Session did not prove convenient, and I cannot now promise an early debate on the Floor. I understand that arrangements are in hand for a debate in the Welsh Grand Committee.

Dealing with the question of immigration and the European affairs connected with this matter, I should like to look further at the suggestions the right hon. Gentleman made. As for the European side, I recognise the particular interest that the first batch of orders is likely to attract and I hope to make special arrangements for dealing with them and not to take them at the end of the day or anything of that nature.

As for the timetable Motion, although naturally I am sorry that it was not possible to agree on a voluntary timetable, we have tried to meet the wishes of the House—many hon. Members have made this point—by having the Committee stage on the Floor of the House. That meets some of the constitutional objections raised by the right hon. Gentleman. I must tell him that there are a number of precedents. This particular exercise will make the score between the parties two-all.

Mr. Wilson

May I correct something, said in relation to foreign affairs? I saw the Patronage Secretary looking pained, and that is something I never like to see. I think it would be fairer to say not that we adopted his suggestion but that he gave us the choice. He said that we could ask for a foreign affairs debate on the Gracious Speech but that the Foreign Secretary could not be present, and that if we preferred to wait until he came back, the debate would be held then. We are all in agreement. I did not want to upset the Patronage Secretary by what I said the first time.

Dealing with the immigration question, is it not a fact that when we raised this issue at the beginning of the Debate on the Gracious Speech a commitment was given that we should have a debate on the wider subjects covered by the immigration rules? I suggest that if we have that debate, we take the orders consequentially with it rather than just proceeding order by order.

Mr. Prior

These are the immigration rules relating to the European Community?

Mr. Wilson


Mr. Prior

I think that we could meet the right hon. Gentleman on that point.

Dame Joan Vickers

For the benefit of some of my hon. Friends who have been successful in the ballot for Private Members' Bills, may I ask my right hon. Friend when the Government will bring in the Guardianship of Infants Bill and the Domicile of Women Bill? If they do not intend doing so, it may be that some private Member will wish to take up these two Bills.

Mr. Prior

I could not say offhand whether the Government are to do that. All I can tell my hon. Friend is that legislative time is very much at a premium this Session and I want to see hon. Members having a proper time for recesses this year. Therefore, if my hon. Friend would like to contact me to see whether the Government will make time for these Bills, I will let her know.

Mr. Jay

Can the right hon. Gentleman make a good start by assuring the House that there will be a Report stage of the Counter-Inflation Bill?

Mr. Prior

That depends entirely on how the House gets on in Committee.

Sir Bernard Braine

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early Day Motion No. 1?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to reconsider its view as set out in its Green Paper on Select Committees of the House of Commons published in October, 1970, and to recommend to the House that a Select Committee on Overseas Development be established, whose functions would include the review and appraisal of British performance in relation to the International Development Strategy for the Second United Nations Development Decade.]

It calls for the setting up of a Select Committee on overseas aid to ensure more effective scrutiny of British performance. Is he aware that this Motion has already attracted 188 signatures from both sides of the House, that it will attract more, and that it has a lot of support outside the House? Does he recall that his predecessor gave a sympathetic assurance that the matter would be investigated and that he would consult his colleagues? Will he now give an assurance that he will consider this matter and report to the House soon?

Mr. Prior

I recognise that there is very strong support from both sides of the House for a Select Committee of this nature. Of course I will give it serious consideration. However, I must point out that more than 300 Members of this House were involved in Select Committees last Session, and we have already an obligation to set up at least three other Committees for this Session. I am worried that we may get to the stage where everyone is serving on Select Committees and no one is in the Chamber.

Mr. James Johnson

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can answer my question since it affects us both. While we are all relieved that the Icelandic dispute has not developed into a cod war, when are the Government likely to make a statement about the situation, and more particularly when will there be talks at ministerial level? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I tabled a Question on the subject last Tuesday and that I have not yet had an answer? What is the right hon. Gentleman doing about it?

Mr. Prior

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I am grateful to him and to right hon. and hon. Members on all sides of the House for the support they have given the Government over the Icelandic fisheries dispute. We shall be holding a further series of talks. They have not yet been arranged, but they will be held soon. My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will have heard the views of the hon. Member.

Mr. Spence

When does my right hon. Friend think that time will be made available for this House to debate the proposed new parliamentary building project in Bridge Street?

Mr. Prior

I recognise that this is a very important matter for hon. Members to discuss. I cannot hold out any immediate hope of a debate, but we must try to fit in one as time goes on.

Mr. Healey

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that experience in the last three days has shown that the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Bill is not only unclear, unjust and unprecedented in the totalitarian powers that it gives the Government to define offences but also constitutes an insuperable obstacle to the resumption of talks on inflation with the TUC and the CBI in its present form? Since that is the purpose for which the Government have told us they have introduced the Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision to impose a timetable even before the Committee stage has been started and enable us to try to correct some of the gross errors in the drafting of the Bill?

Mr. Prior

The right hon. Gentleman is inaccurate in what he said. There will be plenty of opportunity next week for these matters to be debated.

Mr. Wiggin

On the subject of Private Members' Bills, will my right hon. Friend say what will be the Government's policy in the forthcoming Session about finding Government time for these measures after they come back from the other place?

Mr. Prior

I should like to consider that with a view to giving my hon. Friend a reply next week.

Mr. Grimond

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when we may expect the Local Government (Scotland) Bill, and will he undertake that when it goes to Committee it will be sent to the Scottish Grand Committee, since it is a Bill which affects every hon. Member representing a Scottish constituency?

Mr. Prior

I should like to consider that. I have had representations made to me about the number of Members who should serve on the Committee. I believe that the right number on that Committee is 30.

Dame Irene Ward

Perhaps I can help my right hon. Friend with regard to two important Bills to which the Government are committed and which were referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers). I have drawn place No. 12 in the ballot. That is a rather late position in the ballot if one is to get a Bill through all its stages. If I introduce one of the two Bills to which the Government are committed, will my right hon. Friend find Government time for it, because that will help everyone?

Mr. Prior

I congratulate my hon. Friend on drawing a place in the ballot. I am grateful to her for trying to help me in this manner. I could not give any commitment that the Government would give preference to a specific Private Member's Bill.

Miss Lestor

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider finding some time as soon as possible to debate the recent report dealing with adoption and fostering, since it is of considerable interest to social workers and to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who are concerned about these matters?

Mr. Prior

I am afraid not next week, anyhow.

Mr. Pounder

Will my right hon. Friend be prepared to reconsider the business that he has announced for either Monday or Friday of next week? While I realise that the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Bill is of great importance to the Government and the country, nevertheless to the people of Northern Ireland the Northern Ireland Border Poll Bill is also of importance. The Second Reading of that Bill has already been postponed twice. Is not my right hon. Friend prepared to give it precedence over the proposed debate on the Green Paper, because the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want that plebiscite, and quickly?

Mr. Prior

The strong feeling in all parts of the House is that we should have the debate on the paper for consultation on Monday of next week. We shall have a further day on Irish affairs on Friday. I hope that there will be time the following week for the Bill that my hon. Friend mentions.

Sir G. de Freitas

Will the right hon. Gentleman adopt the undertaking given by his predecessor on 20th July that in this Session he would consider more general debates on Royal Commission reports and so on by "butchering"—that was his word—suggested legislation?

Mr. Prior

Certainly I will not "butcher" suggested legislation. But I want to see as much of the time of the House as possible available for rather more general subjects.

Mr. Evelyn King

Has my right hon. Friend seen the Motion in my name seeking to annul what I understand to be the Government's proposal that increases in retirement pensions shall not be payable to pensioners who live abroad? This appears to many to be unjust. Might it be discussed?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the National Insurance (Increase of Benefit and Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 1972 (S.I., 1972, No. 1302), dated 16th August, 1972, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th September, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled.]

Mr. Prior

There will have to be a measure to deal with the proposed lump sum pension increases. I think that that will be the appropriate time for this matter to be raised.

Mr. Russell Kerr

When will the Leader of the House find time to debate the history-making report of the Select Committee which inquired into the Independent Broadcasting Authority?

Mr. Prior

Not next week, anyhow.

Mr. Marten

Will my right hon. Friend allocate perhaps half a day in the very near future to a discussion on the axle weights and sizes of heavy lorries—a matter which worries people in this country—and allow time for Parliament to express its sovereign view so that our people at the Community are limited by the decision of this House in what they may do?

Mr. Prior

I am afraid that I cannot promise time for a debate on that matter at an early date. However, my hon. Friend will have seen reports of the visit to Brussels of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries, and I have no doubt that he will be pleased with the outcome.

Mr. Prentice

Has the Leader of the House seen the Motion tabled last night dealing with the wages of agricultural workers? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it has been signed by approximately 100 hon. Members on this side of the House and that it demands that the Government allow the award to be implemented despite the standstill period? Will the right hon. Gentleman have urgent discussions on the policy involved and, if the Government cannot meet our point of view, may we have an urgent debate on the matter?

[That this House deplores the decision of the Government deliberately to prevent the implementation of the Wages Board award to the agricultural workers, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer's refusal to countenance its back dating after the expiry of the freeze period.]

Mr. Prior

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement about this matter yesterday afternoon, and again it is one which, subject to Mr. Speaker's ruling, can probably be discussed in the course of the Committee stage next week.

Mr. Redmond

Can my right hon. Friend hold out any hope of an early debate on the Report of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Questions as it might help to prevent abuses of the Order Paper of the kind that we have seen in the last day or two, with one hon. Member hogging the Order Paper?

Mr. Prior

I hope soon to be able to tell the House the Government's attitude to the recommendations in that report, but I am afraid not next week.

Mr. Alan Williams

Does the Leader of the House realise that his statement about the Welsh debate is unacceptable not only to Welsh Members but also to Welsh people? Last Session we were denied an opportunity to debate Welsh affairs on the Floor of the House and we were also given utterly inadequate time—contemptuous time—in which to discuss gerrymandering proposals for Welsh local government reform. Will the right hon. Gentleman, further, pass on to the Prime Minister the fact that it has not gone unnoticed in Wales that in his last Cabinet reshuffle the Prime Minister confirmed his previous opinion that not one Welsh Tory Member is fit to speak for the Government?

Mr. Prior

Obviously I should like to find time during this Session for a proper debate on Welsh affairs, and that we will try to do. There is no question of being in any way disrespectful to the Welsh nation, for whom we have the greatest regard.

Mr. Wilkinson

May we have a debate very soon on the latest report by the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration on the police and immigrant relations?[...] Regarding the timetable, within six hours and ten minutes will not the Leader of the Opposition have broken his commitment to withdraw the Opposition's support for the Government?

Mr. Prior

I do not think I ought to comment on the second part of my hon. Friend's remarks.

On the first part, he will already have seen the enormous demands for parliamentary debates of one kind or another. I cannot promise an early debate, but I will consider the matter he mentioned.

Mr. Edelman

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the film industry, especially in view of the carve up of Shepperton Studios by British Lion and Barclay Securities?

Mr. Prior

I cannot find time at the moment, but this is a matter to be considered.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Will my right hon. Friend be making some new proposals for the more satisfactory and democratic conduct of Irish business?

Mr. Prior

We shall be discussing this matter a good deal next week and the week after. I will then see what further measures need to be taken. However, we certainly have before us the possibility of a Committee for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Ross

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on this side of the House would take a very dim view if by any chance the Local Government (Scotland) Bill went to the Scottish Grand Committee for Second Reading? This is a matter for the Floor of the House.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Standing Committee that deals with the Bill is very much larger than one containing only 14 Labour Members and 16 Conservative Members as that size of Committee would not admit any Member of the Liberal Party or the representative of the Western Isles?

Mr. Prior

I will consider these matters further when the Bill comes before the House.

Mr. Body

In considering any guillotine for next week, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend can assure us that a fair amount of time will be given to any amendment concerning farm workers?

Mr. Prior

This is a matter for the Committee to decide. I hope to put down the Motion tonight. That will give adequate time for amendments to be put down. We must then discuss how we are to handle it.

Mr. Heffer

Will the right hon. Gentleman look again into the whole question of the guillotine? He mentioned precedents. The precedents in the last two and a half years have been the Industrial Relations Bill, the Housing Finance Bill and the European Communities Bill. Is it not clear that the Government are undermining the whole basis of parliamentary democracy and at the same time urging people to keep the law of the land when laws are in fact being rushed through without proper parliamentary debate and scrutiny? Is it not clear that if the right hon. Gentleman goes on in this way as Leader of the House he will be as popular in this House as he was when Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?

Mr. Prior

I think that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will recognise that he has not been fair either to the Government or to the House. In fact, I do not think he is being altogether wise in his remarks about the flouting of parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Lipton

Will the Leader of the House consider a debate in the very near future on the Motion which I have put down about the export of live animals instead of carcase meat?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to replace the export trade in live cattle by a carcase trade, as recommended by the Balfour Committee 15 years ago.]

Mr. Prior

This subject stirs strong emotions. I cannot promise an early debate, but the hon. Gentleman knows that the Government's view is that we should concentrate more on the export of carcase meat and less on live meat.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

On a point or order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House has not realised that the Prime Minister gave an undertaking regarding Shepperton Film Studios, and that if those film studios are sold for a purpose other than film use before a debate has taken place in this House the Prime Minister's undertaking will be breached? Will he therefore reconsider the undertaking he has given?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that point has much to do with order.