HC Deb 30 November 1972 vol 847 cc625-36
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, 4TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Mines and Quarries (Valuation) (Amendment) Order.

Motion relating to the Awards (First Degree, etc. Courses) (Amendment) Regulations.

TUESDAY, 5TH DECEMBER—Supply (2nd allotted day): debate on an Opposition Motion relating to postponement of the introduction of VAT.

Motion on the Development of Tourist Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 6TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill.

THURSDAY, 7TH DECEMBER—Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Supply (3rd allotted day): debate on a Motion to take note of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Reports from the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 1971–72, and the related Treasury Minute (Command No. 5126).

Motion on the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) Order.

FRIDAY, 8TH DECEMBER—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 11TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Concorde Aircraft Bill.

Mr. Wilson

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, first, when we may now expect the White Paper on steel? Is he aware that a debate on steel is long overdue? We have deferred pressing for it, even on a Supply Day, because of the expected arrival of the White Paper before Christmas. Will he now categorically confirm that we shall have the White Paper before Christmas? If not, the House may be in the position of having to insist on a debate before getting the White Paper.

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a statement will be made next week about what the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary did or did not say in Spain about the Common Market? There is great anxiety about this matter. Could we be told exactly what he said? If he said what he is reported to have said, will the Leader of the House arrange for his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to repudiate it?

Thirdly, are we to expect next week the long-awaited White Paper on higher education? As the right hon. Gentleman will know, universities have had to start the new quinquennium by recruiting staffs and arranging for student courses without any idea of what finance will be available. Are we to be told next week about the finance that will be available?

Fourthly, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement on what is so far only a Press report, which may be wrong, about an alleged raid on a newspaper office for the purpose of discovering whether there was a Government document there, about which concern has been expressed? Will he let the House know whether this is, perhaps, a new development in the matter of the tracing of leaks by the police?

Mr. Prior

On the right hon. Gentleman's last question, I shall have the matter investigated. I do not know anything of this nature at present.

I promised that a statement would be made on the steel industry before Christmas.

Mr. Varley

A definitive statement?

Mr. Prior

It will be a definitive statement, yes. I keep to that promise that I have made.

On the question of the White Paper on education, I confirm that such a White Paper will be published next week.

On the question of my right hon. Friend's visit to Spain, there will be ample opportunity for this to be discussed in the foreign affairs debate, which I hope very much will take place the week after next.

Mr. Wilson

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courteous answers to my questions. On the question of the Steel White Paper, can he say whether we can expect it to be definitive in the sense of a much more pointed figure for the expansion of the industry, and whether it will deal with the question of where expansion and closures are to take place? Is that intended?

Mr. Prior

I should like to consider those points a little more carefully and, perhaps, contact the right hon. Gentleman. For the moment, I have not mentioned a White Paper. At the moment I have gone no further than to say that there will be a definitive statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in the period between now and Christmas.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

May I congratulate the Opposition on joining in my excellent campaign for the postponement of value added tax? May I also assure my right hon. Friend that I give him a wholehearted zero rating?

Mr. Prior

May I tell my right hon. Friend that it will also give the Government a chance to put right some of the inaccuracies of what he has been saying.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed Early Day Motion No. 27, which calls for nuclear bases to be destroyed? Will he give time for a debate upon this subject because, as has become apparent during Question Time today, there is considerable interest in the Government's attitude towards nuclear bases? Is it not high time that we debated the subject?

[That this House, having regard to the following passage in the 1964 Labour Party General Election manifesto:'… Nor is it true that all this costly defence expenditure will produce an "independent deterrent". It will not be independent and it will not be British and it will not deter … we are not prepared any longer to waste the country's resources on endless duplication of strategic nuclear weapons ', and to the 1972 Conference resolution, which reads as follows: 'This Conference is convinced of the futility of a nuclear war which would be suicidal for the human race and in view of the present world unrest feels the time is ripe for positive action by the British Government. The presence of American nuclear bases prevents us from taking the kind of political stance which would encourage world nuclear disarmament. There is no doubt this country presents a sitting target. This Conference is opposed to any British defence policy which is based on the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons either by this country or its allies and demands the removal of all nuclear bases in this country', believes that these policies should now be implemented.]

Mr. Prior

I do not think that this would be out of order in the foreign affairs debate which I hope will take place the week after next.

Mr. Farr

Does my right hon. Friend expect that a report will be published next week on the riot at Gartree; and, if so, will he make available at some time in the near future parliamentary time to discuss it?

Mr. Prior

I cannot give my hon. Friend an answer to that question at the moment, but I will consult my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It is most unlikely that we can find time before Christmas for a debate on this important matter in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Leader of the House give us any indication as to where the Committee stage of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill is to be taken? It will be something of a scandal if, simply because the Conservative Party has not enough Scottish Members, Scottish Members are deprived of the opportunity of taking part in the Committee stage of this important Bill which affects every Scottish constituency.

Mr. Prior

In that respect this Bill is no different from the Local Government Act for England and Wales. It is reasonable that a Bill of this nature should be considered by a Standing Committee. Then it will come back to the Floor of the House on Report when other hon. Members on both sides will have a chance of putting their points.

Dame Irene Ward

When are we to have the Coal Industry Bill? When are we to be told who are to pay—and how—the deficits of the nationalised industries? I could do a great deal better with the money that would be available. There are a large number of things I want to spend it on.

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend may think that she would do better. Over the years she has called upon the nationalised industries to keep down their prices—

Dame Irene Ward

They never have.

Mr. Prior

—and Government aid to the nationalised industries has enabled that to happen. I assure my hon. Friend that the Coal Industry Bill is coming forward very soon now.

Mr. Hannan

Returning to the point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), surely the Leader of the House understands the difference between England and Wales and Scotland, in that there is a majority of Opposition Members from Scotland and that they will be deprived of the opportunity of serving on the Standing Committee.

Did the Leader of the House give further consideration to the request made last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) that the rule should be suspended on Monday night to afford more time for the debate on Second Reading?

Mr. Prior

I gave further consideration to the question of suspending the rule. I think that the Opposition wished in any case to take a prayer that evening, so this suggestion was not pursued. On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I still think that the right place for discussion of a Bill is in a Standing Committee, and that is the ordinary practice of the House.

Captain Orr

My right hon. Friend will recollect that it was intended to take the Detention of Terrorists Order last week. My right hon. Friend has not announced it as part of next week's business. Is there any particular reason for the delay? May we expect it soon?

Mr. Prior

There is no particular reason for the delay. As my hon. and gallant Friend knows only too well, we have had a lot of Irish business on the Floor of the House in the last two weeks and I wish to pursue some other topics which hon. Members in all parts of the House want to get on with.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Will the Leader of the House find time soon for a debate on the Franks Committee Report on the Official Secrets Act? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the longer this report remains pigeon-holed and un-debated the longer this totally discredited Act remains the law of the land?

Mr. Prior

This is obviously a very important subject. I will consider what the hon. Gentleman said and see when we can find time. In the next few weeks we have a very busy programme.

Sir Bernard Braine

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early Day Motion No. 1 which calls for the setting-up of a Select Committee to scrutinise Britain's overseas aid performance?

[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.]

This motion has already attracted almost 200 signatures and I can promise my right hon. Friend that it will attract more. Will he give the House an indication whether he will be able to give an inkling of the Government's intentions on this before we rise for the Christmas Recess?

Mr. Prior

I will certainly consider what my right hon. Friend said. We have not, perhaps, been getting on as fast with setting up Select Committees as one would have liked. Therefore, it is difficult at this stage to see whether we should have sufficient hon. Members in all parts of the House to serve on these Committees. In the next few weeks we must obviously reach decisions on these important matters.

Mr. McBride

Reverting to the matter of the steel industry raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, is the Leader of the House aware that as Chairman of the Welsh Parliamentary Group I led a deputation to the Secretary of State for Wales this week, on which occasion the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he was not sure whether a statement would be issued about the steel industry before Christmas? Can the right hon. Gentleman now say that a definitive statement of policy about the steel industry will certainly be made before Christmas to allay the anxieties of the steelworkers of Wales and that this statement will in no way be construed as a holding operation?

Mr. Prior

This is a matter of very great importance, not least to hon. Members from Wales. A fortnight ago I said that the Government would be making a full statement before the Christmas Recess. I have no grounds for detracting from that statement.

Mr. Tugendhat

As we were kept up half the night on Irish business last week, and as we are to devote a whole day to Scottish business next week, may I remind my right hon. Friend of his predecessor's promise that we would at some time discuss the problems of London? Over 7 million people live in London. They get very little time in the House compared with other parts of the Kingdom.

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend exemplifies only too well the difficulties which face a Leader of the House.

Mr. Albu

In view of the vast sums of public money which are now being spent unplanned and unvoted, will the Leader of the House say when the White Paper on Public Expenditure is to be published and particularly whether it will give an indication of the Government's priorities in public expenditure especially in regard to higher education and expenditure on aircraft such as Concorde?

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman can expect the White Paper on Public Expenditure shortly now. It is not my view that large sums of money are being spent unvoted. That is not a correct allegation.

Sir F. Bennett

The Leader of the Opposition's first question about the Foreign Minister's visit to Madrid received the answer that there will be ample opportunity to clarify these matters in the foreign affairs debate. My right hon. Friend does not need to be reminded that not every hon. Member gets called in a debate. May I ask whether on that occasion my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will also take the opportunity to deal with what I am sure are misleading and inaccurate reports which have appeared in the Spanish Press about undertakings he is alleged to have given over the question of Gibraltar?

Mr. Prior

I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will be able to deal with that matter fully and, having heard what my hon. Friend has said, will take the opportunity of doing so.

Sir G. de Freitas

On the question of the Franks Committee Report and other reports, when will the Leader of the House if necessary reduce some of the legislation and allow us time to debate not only outstanding Royal Commission reports but the 30 or so Select Committee reports which have never been discussed?

Mr. Prior

I am doing my best to find more time for this purpose. I believe it is the wish of the House that there should be more general debates. I certainly could not promise that we would be able to debate all these reports.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Leader of the House aware that his predecessor in March of this year made a promise to Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland that he would set up machinery so that instead of dealing with Orders in Council that cannot be amended Members from Northern Ireland could put forward amendments and deal with a parliamentary committee? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that pledge has not been honoured and that at the moment, although time has been given for discussion of Northern Ireland matters, most matters are discussed on Orders in Council and there is no room under this system to make amendments to the legislation?

Mr. Prior

I am aware of the views that have been expressed from time to time on this subject. Rather than send certain matters to some form of Irish Committee upstairs or in another part of the building, we have tried to give more time on the Floor of the House for these debates. I believe that, generally speaking, that has perhaps met the wishes of the House in a rather better way than the suggestion that was put forward earlier. If the House as a whole has views on how better we can arrange business concerning Northern Ireland, I am prepared to consider them.

Mr. Leonard

As it is already several weeks since hon. Members had the opportunity of hearing an explanation by the architects of the merits of the new parliamentary building, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to give us an early opportunity to debate the matter so that a decision may be reached before our memories fade?

Mr. Prior

To be correct, it is about three weeks since we had the architects' report and demonstration. This is obviously a very important matter. I should like to have a debate as soon as possible and I agree that we should come to a decision, but I do not think it can be before Christmas.

Mr. Marten

May we have a debate fairly soon on the draft regulations being put out by the Community about driving licences? This matter is still in the draft stage and we could discuss it quite usefully provided we were given the English translation of the draft which is being circulated.

Mr. Prior

These are matters that we would like to find time to debate if the time were available, but I do not believe there will be an early opportunity for that.

Mr. C. Pannell

If we are not to have an early debate on the parliamentary building, will the right hon. Gentleman impress upon his right hon. Friends, particularly the Minister for Housing and Construction, that they should not let out piecemeal information of what is to be done about Parliament and Parliament Square, such as the retention of Scotland Yard and Richmond Terrace? These things must be considered as a whole, and they raise a great controversy. The Minister should wait to make a proper statement to the House about the redevelopment of Whitehall as a whole in relation to the parliamentary building.

Mr. Prior

It is obviously very hard to win on these things. There has been a great public demand for decisions to be reached on Scotland Yard and Richmond Terrace, and on the whole I believe that the House and the people outside, particularly Londoners, welcomed the decision that was made. I take the right hon. Member's point and I believe that we would like to get on with the matter as soon as we can find time for a comprehensive debate.

Mr. Redmond

May I raise the issue of the report of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Questions? Is it not obvious, Mr. Speaker, from the number of points of order coming to you during Questions, particularly Prime Minister's Questions, that the House should have an early opportunity to debate the report and to make up its mind?

Mr. Prior

I want to deal with this problem before Christmas and I hope to make an announcement during the statement on next week's business, and certainly not later than the week after that. I believe that the House would want to get this issue out of the way before Christmas.

Mr. Concannon

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Coal Mines Bill would be out very soon. Did he mean that the Second Reading would be taken before Christmas, because if not, and if it is left over until after the recess, the problem will arise that the Committee stages and the other stages here and in the other place will have to be completed before 31st March? If that is the right hon. Gentleman's intention, will he let us know very quickly so that some of us can make arrangements to come back early from the Christmas Recess to start the Committee stage?

Mr. Prior

By "very soon" I meant that I hoped that the Bill would be published next week, but if not next week certainly the week after that. Whether we could then find time to take the Second Reading before Christmas would depend upon the speed of parliamentary business, but if we could, we would like to do so. I have noted the hon. Member's point.

Mr. Urwin

Will the right hon. Gentleman impress upon the Secretary of State for Employment the importance and urgency of making at an early date, and certainly before Christmas, an anxiously awaited statement on the Loddon Viaduct disaster last month? Will the right hon. Gentleman allow time for a debate on the whole question of bridge design and safety in this part of the construction industry?

Mr. Prior

I shall report both those important matters to my right hon. Friend. I reported the concern about the bridge problem to him last week and I shall consider whether any statement needs to be made.

Mr. Lawson

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs next week? If he does not intend to do so, will he explain why there is a delay and what the difficulties are?

Mr. Prior

It is not my intention to set up this Select Committee next week and I am still considering when and whether it should be set up.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.