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Business Of The House

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 21 December 1971

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May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the week after the Christmas Recess?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. William Whitelaw)

The business for the first week after the Christmas Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY, 17TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Airports Authority Bill.

Motions on the Rate Rebates (Limits of Income) Orders.

TUESDAY, 18TH JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Ministerial and Other Salaries Bill and of the Mineral Exploration and Investment and Building Grants Amendment Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 19TH JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Civil List Bill and of the Transport Holding Company Bill.

THURSDAY, 20TH JANUARY—Supply (7th allotted day): Debate on a topic to be announced.

FRIDAY, 21ST JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that 10 days ago we pressed him to find time, before the House rose for the Christmas Recess, to debate the fisheries agreement announced by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster before the signature of the Treaty of Accession, which at that time was due to take place before the House returned.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we now understand from the Government and from public announcements that there will be no signature before the House returns and, therefore, that our debate on this matter in the first week, as announced by the right hon. Gentleman, will therefore anticipate or precede any signature of the Treaty? But does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that it is quite wrong that the Opposition should have to find a Supply Day for debating a matter which was left deliberately as unfinished business when it was debated during the six-day debate on the Common Market, particularly in so far as there had been a clear pledge by the Chancellor of the Duchy, to his party conference and in the House, that there would be no signature if there was not a satisfactory agreement?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, therefore, that we are stretching many points by providing parliamentary time for so important a debate? On the same question, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, before there is any question of a signature, the context of what is to be signed will be made available to the House?

I confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that the present plans are that the Treaty of Accession will be signed on 22nd January. Those are the present plans. [Interruption.] I said that those are the present plans.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would not always treat me as perhaps as much of a fool as he may think that I am. I am using words specifically designed to make it clear that the present plans are that the Treaty will be signed on 22nd January. Those are my words. I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the debate. I note his arguments. I think that the present arrangements are reasonable and I hope that they will be satisfactory to the House.

As for the last point, I shall certainly look into the question of the text in the context in which the right hon. Gentleman raised it.

I accept the right hon. Gentleman at his valuation and the House's valuation of him, and I think that they are probably about the same. Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that while we are to understand that it was the present plans which may change, there will be no change in the sense anticipated; in other words, that the signature will be brought forward before the debate he has announced this afternoon?

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the Motion in my name regarding C. A. Parsons? In order to protect the interests of professional engineers who are being pushed into a trade union which is not of their choice, will my right hon. Friend say when that will be illegal? In other words, when will the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act dealing with the setting up of various portions of it be put into operation? I want to protect the professional engineers against being engineered into the unions or sacked—which would be disagraceful.

[That this House notes with regret the action recently taken by C. A. Parsons, of Wallsend-on-Tyne, a distinguished company with an outstanding contribution to industry in war and peace, to issue dismissal notices to professional engineers, trade union members of the United Kingdom Association of Professional Engineers, unless these employees became union members of the Draughtsmen's and Technicians' Association: and notes that this action would be illegal under the Industrial Relations Act when its provisions become operative in 1972, and makes a mockery of establishing good industrial relations on Tyneside in this firm and can lead to the unemployment of men whose only objective is to remain members of a union of their choice, and who will not submit to dictatorships when they have freedom under the law.]

I cannot give the specific answer to my hon. Friend this afternoon. What I will do is call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to what she has said, and investigate the matter further with him.

Has the Leader of the House had any weekend thoughts on when and whether we should debate the Rothschild Report on the future of research stations?

I am afraid that I was not thinking about that at the weekend. But, joking apart, I certainly recognise that this is an important matter, and I stand by what I said to the hon. Gentleman last week.

As the reports into two of the four Upper Clyde yards, Scotstoun and Clydebank, which have been commissioned by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, are to be received during the Christmas Recess, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that the Secretary of State will make a statement on the Government's view of these reports when we return?

Yes, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be most anxious to make a statement as soon as he can make a report to the House. I asked him specifically, in answer to a request made by an hon. Gentleman during an Adjournment debate last week, if he could make an announcement about the chairman before the House rises. I understand that this will not be possible, but that he will make it as soon as possible.

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that he will not regard the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill in relation to the E.E.C. and fisheries as a substitute for a proper debate and vote in the House? Second, will he undertake to raise the point with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that his repeated evasions on central points during the debate were unwelcome on this side of the House and that he has refused to answer specific questions laid by hon. Members? Under these circumstances, will the Leader of the House say specifically that we shall have a debate in Government time before the Treaty of Accession is signed?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says about my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy. A four-hour debate was important. I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has said that he is seeking to pursue this matter on his Supply Day before the Treaty of Accession is signed, and that is the way that I understand the House will proceed.

When will the next debate on Northern Ireland take place? Will my right hon. Friend treat it as a matter of urgent priority in view of the mounting campaign of terror which is being waged against the law-abiding people of Ulster?

I cannot say when such a debate will be possible. The whole House appreciates the seriousness of the matter, and there have been various discussions about it. I do not think that there is anything I can add this afternoon.

The right hon. Gentleman will recollect the undertaking he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) during the debate on the Christmas Adjournment that the names of the additional members of the Pearce Commission would be reported before we rose. We are grateful that the names of the additional Europeans who will join the Commission have been announced in a Written Answer, but may we take it that before we rise there will be a statement, so that the House, which is acutely concerned with the guidelines and various other matters relating to the Pearce Commission, will have an opportunity to ask questions?

The names were announced, as promised, and they were the names of two people very prominent in African affairs. I cannot now give the right hon. Gentleman an undertaking about the statement for which he asks.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House has been treated pretty badly on these matters? The first three names were announced in another place, when there was no announcement in this House. The last two were announced by Written Answer, and there has been no oral statement. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people in more than one part of the House, and all over the country, hoped that the final list would include an African, and that in default of that it would include such a person as Bishop Skelton, the very distinguished former bishop, respected by all the African races in Rhodesia, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, and my noble Friend Lord Caradon, or anyone else that would have carried confidence with the Africans there? The Press conference given yesterday by the five did nothing to add to public confidence in the team that has been appointed. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot answer now, will he make inquiries and let the House know at the earliest opportunity whether any such names, including an African or those I have mentioned, and many others who could have been approached, were approached and turned it down or were not approached, or were considered by Her Majesty's Government and were vetoed by Mr. Smith's régime?

I am sure that there is nothing in the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. As for the rest, the best I can do is to report what the right hon. Gentleman and others have said to my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, who will be prepared to answer all those questions when they are put down to him.

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman take this matter further? The Pearce Commission gave a Press conference yesterday in which specific questions were addressed to members of the Commission which the House will not be able to address to the Minister responsible. We are dealing with 5 million of Her Majesty's subjects for whom the House is responsible. Will the right hon. Gentleman, who I know tries to help the House whenever he can, use his best endeavours to see that we have a statement tomorrow from his right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary on these matters, which are very disquieting and which are the responsibility of the House?

The Pearce Commission made perfectly clear at its Press conference the way in which it was conducting its business, which I thought was entirely in line with what my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary had said. I will look into the matter, but I cannot be committed to a statement, particularly as my right hon. Friend will still be in Bermuda tomorrow.

When might my right hon. Friend be able to find time for a debate on the reorganisation of the employment services following the recent statement?

During the first week after we return from the recess, can the right hon. Gentleman carry out a suggestion that I am sure will have the unanimous support of back-benchers, which is to appoint a review committee to go into all matters concerning the adequacy or otherwise of old-age pensions? Since we know that Lord Boyle is so good at it, will the right hon. Gentleman ask Lord Boyle and his Committee to investigate the subject and report to the House? Such a move would be overwhelmingly welcomed in the House and in the country.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services made a very important statement about pensions last week, and I think that it was widely accepted throughout the House.

Is it the Government's intention to afford the House an opportunity to debate their White Paper on local government reform in Scotland at any time before the Summer Recess?

I should like to see the subject debated. As I have said before, I understand that it could have been debated in the Scottish Grand Committee. I appreciate why that cannot happen at present. I am prepared to keep the matter under review.

Has my right hon. Friend had a further opportunity to think when he could provide time for a debate on the Annual Report of the Post Office?

In view of the Government's continuing policy of appointing part-time chairmen of nationalised industries at fancy salaries and even fancier expense allowances, may we have an assurance that we shall have an early opportunity after returning from the recess to debate this important aspect of Government policy?

I in no way accept the hon. Gentleman's premises. These are subjects on which there are constant opportunities for questions and debates when various matters come before the House.

In view of the continuing dangerous situation in Pakistan, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the possibility of asking my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to make a statement on the situation as it may then have developed very shortly after the recess?

As the right hon. Gentleman has said that the Supply Day on 20th January may well be concerned with some aspects of the E.E.C., will he tell us when the Government intend to publish the full and official translation of all the regulations that they intend to bind us to two days later, without the mandate of the British people?

It was the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition who indicated the likely subject for the Supply Day on 20th January. As for the hon. Gentleman's second point, I note the question about the text of the Treaty, and will look into these matters.

I cannot say. Before the hon. Gentleman gets too excited I should say that all the matters to do with the Treaty of Accession are entirely subject to the House and legislation in the House. That is surely a proper safeguard for the House.

Since the Secretary of State for Social Services has steadfastly set his face against appearing here as Father Christmas to the old-age pensioners, is there any hope that he may appear as Mother New Year after the recess, awarding pensioners a fuel supplement, bearing in mind that the hardest weather is in February and March? Will he at least provide some fuel for them to get through these hard periods?

I note the hon. Gentleman's point. But I am entitled to put it in the, proper context, that this Government made the largest ever increase in old-age pensions in September, that the pension will have a higher value this Christmas than at any Christmas recently—and I believe ever—and that last week the annual review of pensions was announced.

Will the Leader of the House invite his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to clear up the answer he gave in which he said that those now receiving family income supplement will have the rate increased from £4 to £5 on 1st April, 1972, when in fact two-thirds of those people will be receiving rent rebates and therefore cannot qualify for any increase in family income supplement? The right hon. Gentleman deliberately misled the House, and the matter needs to be cleared up.

Without accepting any of the hon. Gentleman's premises, and without having been into the matter or knowing exactly what happened, I will call what the hon. Gentleman says to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, who will no doubt look into the question.