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Business Of The House

Volume 756: debated on Thursday 14 December 1967

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May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business of the House for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Richard Crossman)

Yes, Sir. The Business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 18TH DECEMBER—Private Members' Motions until 7 p.m.

Remaining stages of the Administration of Justice Bill, of the Trustee Savings Banks Bill, of the London Cab Bill and of the Erskine Bridge Tolls Bill.

Lords Amendments to the Coal Industry Bill.

TUESDAY, 19TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Transport Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 20TH DECEMBER—Supply [6th Allotted Day]:

Debate on the Middle East, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY, 21ST DECEMBER—It will be proposed that the House should meet at 11 a.m., that Questions be taken until 12 noon, and that the House adjourn at 5 p.m. until Monday, 22nd January, 1968.

I would like to ask the Leader of the House three questions.

The right hon. Gentleman has now apparently decided to allow only one day for the Second Reading Debate on the Transport Bill. This is a Bill which he must know comprises 300 pages. It is really seven Bills in one and it is as irrelevant to our present situation as it is long and thoroughly objectionable. If he is determined to allow only one day for Second Reading, can we at least have a suspension to give a more reasonable time, and will the Leader of the House undertake not to put down the Adjournment Motion for the Recess on that day?

Secondly, as many hon. Members will no doubt wish to take part in the debate on the Middle East, may we also have a suspension that night?

Thirdly, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer be making a statement about further economic measures before the Houses rises?

I agree that the Transport Bill is an extremely important Measure, and I am prepared to consider a suspension to an hour convenient to the House to be agreed through the usual channels.

It would also be highly reasonable to have a suspension on the day for the debate on the Middle East. Again, I would like to discuss the exact time through the usual channels.

I can say that we are not expecting a statement from the Chancellor on further economic measures before the Recess.

Does my right hon. Friend not think it is inappropriate that we should not have a debate on South-East Asia, particularly on Vietnam, before the Christmas Recess? A number of hon. Members on this side of the House have been pressing for a day at least. I and many of my colleagues thought that we would have it before the Recess.

This is a matter which we have had to discuss. Unless we were to postpone going into recess till Friday, which I think all hon. Members would regret, I had to choose before the Recess between the Middle East and the Far East. I give my hon. Friend the assurance that there will be a debate soon after our return. A day will be devoted to the subject in which she is interested.

[ That this House resolves to increase farther the retirement pension rate forthwith in Scotland and Wales in view of the lower average incomes earned in Scotland and Wales as compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, the higher prices in Scotland and Wales paid for food and fuel, the fact that despite the recent increase in the retirement pension of 10s. the purchasing power of retirement pensions is less than it was two years ago, and further financial hardships the devaluation of the £ sterling will inflict in Scotland and Wales of increased prices.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time to debate that matter?

Having looked at this Motion more carefully. I would say to the hon. Lady that, if implemented, it would produce a sense of discrimination and apartheid which might create some nationalism south of the Border.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Transport Bill is probably the largest piece of legislation that we are likely to have this Session? In view of its importance, one or even two hours' suspension is not sufficient. We ought to have a two-day debate on the Bill.

I am very much aware of this problem. We had the choice between getting in the debate on the Middle East, which has been wanted very much by the House, and giving a second day to the Transport Bill. On balance, though it was a difficult choice, I thought that suspension for further time for the Transport Bill on one day was preferable to losing the debate on foreign affairs before the Recess.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us some news about the Gaming Bill, which I understand was ready before the change in the office of Home Secretary? Can we not expect it reasonably soon?

Yes. The Gaming Bill will be published before we go into recess for Christmas. I hope to have the Second Reading debate in the first week of our return.

In the light of the number of takeovers in my constituency, in particular, the fact that a British company is to be taken over by Triplex, and we now have a monopoly, may we have a debate on the Monopolies Commission very shortly?

I can see that there are potent constituency reasons for the debate, but I must consider the general interest of the House. I can see no chance of a debate in the coming week.

In view of the recent disappointing statement by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, when will we have a debate on Rhodesia?

I do not accept that the statement was unsatisfactory. It was disappointing in one sense, but I can see no reason why we should debate it at length before the Christmas Recess.

My right hon. Friend said that on Monday we will be discussing the Lords Amendments to the Coal Industry Bill. Is he satisfied that the House will have sufficient time to debate those Amendments?

Looking at the time they are coming on, there is an almost unlimited period of possibilities.

Will there be a statement before the Christmas Recess about how the Government will honour the Prime Minister's pledge to protect the most vulnerable section of the community from the impact of devaluation?

I would not expect the Chancellor or any of my colleagues to be making a statement on that subject before the Recess.

As the Prime Minister has not given a clear undertaking about arms to South Africa, may I ask the Leader of the House whether a statement on arms to South Africa will be made early next week, so that, if necessary, Standing Order No. 9 might be invoked to have a debate on this subject?

The Standing Order will be invoked and decided on its merits. The statement will be made early next week.

Has the Leader of the House had a chance to reflect on the representations made to him every Thursday over the last few weeks that there should be a debate on the Report on the Select Committee on Science and Technology? Can he promise such a debate early after Christmas?

I cannot promise, but this is one of the debates which has considerable priority.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that the Prime Minister will not go to the United States of America without giving the House an opportunity first of debating its views about Vietnam and possibly changing the Government's mind about it?

The right hon. Gentleman stated that there was to be no statement on further economic measures before the Recess. Does he realise how dangerous it is for Ministers to go round the country saying that further drastic measures would have to be taken without saying anything about what these measures are?

As always, I will, with courtesy, communicate to my right hon. colleague the views of the right hon. Gentlemen.

Has the Leader of the House seen Motion No. 83, which calls attention to the urgent need for the Government to take positive action in the prices field both in the public and private sector?

[ That this House, recognising that if restraint in the growth of personal incomes is to be accepted the effects of devaluation must be fairly shared, urges that the Government takes powers to forbid price increases in both the public and the private sector unless the proposed increases are submitted to the National Board for Prices and Incomes for examination and report.]

Will he give time on Thursday, even by extending the length of that day's sitting, so that this urgent topic may be debated and a clear indication given to the Government of the wish of the House?

I think that my hon. Friend has misunderstood what I said. I said that on Thursday Questions will be taken and that the House will adjourn with the usual Adjournment debates and the usual opportunities for hon. Members to raise what subjects they wish.

Is the Leader of the House aware of Motion No. 76, about the release of British ships in the Bitter Lakes?

[ That this House notes with dismay the total failure of Her Majesty's Government to effect the release of British ships detained illegally in the Suez Canal; considers that acceptance of this unwarranted seizure of British property will give rise to the belief that the United Kingdom will never again under any circumstances act in defence of legitimate British interests; and calls on the Government to adopt more effective methods of achieving their immediate release.]

Will the Government take an early opportunity—preferably before the debate on the Middle East next week—of publishing a clear statement on what is happening about these ships, what action has been taken, and with what results?

I would have thought that the resumption of diplomatic relations created an opportunity for action in relation to these ships. If action does justify a statement next week, no doubt my hon. Friend will make it.

Will the Leader of the House impress on his right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Defence the importance of a statement before the House rises on the question of forces allowances?

I appreciate the importance attached to that subject. I will certainly communicate with my right hon. Friend to see whether it is possible to make a statement in addition to the one that was previously made.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the disappointment that next week's business contains no reference to legislation to ban cigarette coupons? Will he assure the House that it is the Government's intention to table legislation and not to leave it to a private Member?

Any hon. Member who feels disappointment at not finding this in next week's business must have a fantastic imagination of the business we are likely to do next week.

In view of the great concern throughout the country of the seriousness of the foot-and-mouth disease, will the Leader of the House get his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, at the latest stage before we rise, to make a statement on the situation and tell us what he proposes to do during the Recess?

I thought that the situation was getting a little better. If there is anything further to say my right hon. Friend will, of course, make a statement on the matter.

In view of the recent launching of Human Rights Year, and the deteriorating situation, not least in Greece and Southern Africa, will my right hon. Friend undertake to set aside a day shortly after the Christmas Recess for a debate on human rights?

I do not think that I can give any kind of guarantee that a whole day will be set aside. I said that we; would have two days on foreign affairs, one on the Middle East before the Recess, and one on the Far East afterwards, in both of which areas the problem of human rights most certainly arises.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when an opportunity will be found to debate the Report of the: Select Committee on Agriculture? Is he aware that the delay in re-establishing this Committee means that two months of the present Session have been lost in getting this Committee down to work?

I hope that in the very near future the names of the members of the Committee will be published. There have been discussions through the usual channels about a debate on the Report. It must take its place in the queue. There is now a formidable queue of debates on Reports from Committees. There is the Estimates Committee, to which we owe one as well, and I must be careful to space them out.

Will my right hon. Friend find an early opportunity after the Recess for a wide-ranging debate on the future of local government, including the Maud Report on the management of local government?

I shall consider the possibility of that. I think that we ought to consider carefully the timing of a debate of that kind. This is the first time that it has been put to me, and I shall bear it in mind.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Motion No. 69, which deals extensively with the economic situation?

[ That this House, acutely conscious of Her Majesty's Government's responsibility for the economic difficulties facing the nation, accept the underlying need for economic and financial measures to implement the letter of intent from the Government to the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, but considers that such intent is totally inadequate to achieve the purpose of ensuring a long term financial and economic stability to the nation and calls upon Her Majesty's Government, first, to re-phase public expenditure to be anticipated from existing policies so as to provide an easing of demand on the part of the public sector of a further £500 million in the next two years; second, to limit drastically new policies that would inflict substantial charges upon the Exchequer and which could easily be postponed, such as the raising of the school leaving age; third, to enter into no further commitments for the granting of overseas aid before the end of 1969; fourth, having regard to the Government's policy of reducing military responsibilities overseas, to ensure a level of overall economies in defence expenditure not yet provided which can alone mitigate if not justify that policy so that savings greatly in excess of £100 million are achieved, and fifth, so to plan our national affairs that resources released under the foregoing provisions are utilised for the encouragement and expansion of industry through lower taxation and increased investment in the private sector both at home and overseas.]

While I cannot anticipate the time for a discussion of that Motion, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that his answer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is completely unsatisfactory, and that a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on further measures to support our country are essential if a minimum of confidence is to be restored in the Government?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Adjournment on Standing Order No. 9 gave an opportunity in the relatively near past for a debate of this kind. I cannot predict any further debate before the Christmas Recess.

With regard to the making of a statement, I shall communicate with my right hon. Friend, and if one is necessary it will be made.

Why does the right hon. Gentleman persist in denying the House of Commons the opportunity both to digest and to discuss the monstrously large Transport Bill? Has he had a look at it himself? Has he studied the fact that it involves a massive write-off of capital which ought, by tradition, to be discussed on the Floor of the House?

I would not claim that I have read every page of it, but I have leafed through parts of it, and I realise the cerebral excitement of the intellectual adventure that it is to move from the beginning to the end of it. I appreciate the importance of the Bill, but I think that we had to make a choice, and my impression is that, by and large, the House thinks that we have arranged the business for next week in a way which satisfies things as far as we can, though I agree that there is a strong case for having a longer time for the Bill.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a start is to be made in Brussels next week on reaching an historic decision relating to a Resolution of the House, passed by the largest majority in a very long time? What plans has the right hon. Gentleman for a statement to be made about what is happening in Brussels?

It depends on what happens. I assure the hon. Gentleman that if clear conclusions are reached which require a statement by the Government, a statement will come, but I cannot make arrangements for that now. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we fit these things in when the time arrives.

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time after the Recess for a debate on the specific question of Britain's relations with Australia, an area in which our fences need very much mending?

I have said that we are to have a day's debate on the Far East, and I would have thought that Australia was not excluded from that geographical part of the world.

If there is to be no statement next week on the general economic situation, can the right hon. Gentleman promise a statement about the impact on Scotland and the development areas of cuts in public investment? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable public apprehension about the constant references to drastic cuts? People want a clear statement before the end of January about where the axe will fall.

I think that we had better wait until a statement is made about the nature of the economic measures. I can give no kind of assurance that a Parliamentary statement will be made about the measures in advance of any statement about them.

The time allotted for the Second Reading of the Transport Bill is totally inadequate. Even to read the Clauses will take up a half hour speech, and we are to be given six hours in which to debate the Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman agree to suspend the rule? I suggest that he should suspend it until 10 o'clock the following morning.

I am prepared to take seriously any suggestions on procedure from the hon. Gentleman, who is an expert on it, but I would not have thought that it was the wish of the House that we should use the new Standing Order, or any others, to extend the debate to the next morning. I would have thought that the suspension of the rule, arranged through the usual channels, would satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

As the Transport Bill contains Clauses affecting borrowing powers, may we take it that in due course the Committee stage will be taken on the Floor of the House?

I think that the question of the Committee stage is not a matter to be discussed on the business for next week, but I shall be surprised if that actually happens.

I must remind the hon. Lady that there is no second round on Business questions

Has the right hon. Gentleman had a chance to discuss with the Secretary of State for Scotland when an opportunity can be given to debate the Halliday Report? Will consideration be given to this being debated in the Scottish Grand Committee?

I think that I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman to do me the courtesy of letting me discuss that with my right hon. Friend to see what can be done after the Recess.

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, you reminded my hon. Friend the Member of Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Anne Kerr) that there was no second round on Business questions. Will you consider whether we have reached the stage of tedious repetition on matters which are not for business next week and on the Transport Bill?

The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not expect the new economic measures to be announced before the House rose next week? Can he undertake that none will be announced before the House reassembles?

I am not going to give any assurance about what statements may, or may not, be made before the House reassembles. It may be necessary, in an emergency, to make a statement. I see no reason to think that it will be necessary, but I could not give a guarantee in advance.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there will be no Order on Stansted next week, or this year? What are the Government's intentions?

I think that I can give an assurance that there will not be an Order next week.

As the Transport Bill is three times the size of the Steel Bill, and involves £1,900 million of public spending, and as the Steel Bill went to Committee in October, would not it be wise to withdraw the Transport Bill next Tuesday?

Reverting to the debate on the Transport Bill, would it not be for the convenience of the House to postpone this from next week's business and hold it over until there can be two days for the debate when the House reassembles, and in its place next week to have a debate on the fuel White Paper, which the Government have postponed a number of times?

I think that if I had decided to postpone the Second Reading of the Transport Bill until after the Recess there would have been a howl of indignation from the Opposition. We will have the Transport Bill next week. I know that there are hon. Members who are ardently preparing for the Committee stage, and are anxious to get down to it.

In view of the fact that the whole of the international financial community is hanging on this, will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the point about the date of the economic statement? As I understood, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst), the right hon. Gentleman implied that there might be a statement before the House rose. Will he make clear when the statement is likely to come?

I was asked whether there could conceivably be a statement, and I said that there could be. I said that I would communicate to my right hon. Friend the desire of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) to have a statement. I said that I did not expect a statement of the Government's further measures before the end of the Recess. That is all I said, that I did not expect it.