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Business Of The House

Volume 763: debated on Thursday 2 May 1968

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business of the House for next week?

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

MONDAY, 6TH MAY—Second Reading of the Social Work (Scotland) Bill [ Lords].

Prayer on the Dangerous Drugs (Supply to Addicts) Regulations.

TUESDAY, 7TH MAY—Debate on the Overseas Aid Programme, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motions on the Ploughing Grants Schemes, on the Fertilisers (United Kingdom) Scheme, and on the Import Duties (General) (No. 3) Order.

Prayer on the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY, 8TH MAY—Remaining stages of the Trade Descriptions (No. 2) Bill [ Lords], and of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Continental Shelf (Protection of Installations) (No. 2) Order.

THURSDAY, 9TH MAY—Supply [20th Allotted Day]:

Debate on Public Service and Armed Forces Pensions, which will arise on an Opposition Motion.

At seven o'clock, opposed Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Motion on the Pastoral Measure, 1968.

FRIDAY, 10TH MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 13TH MAY—The proposed business will be:

Supply [21st Allotted Day]:

Debate on a topic to be announced later.

Last week, the Leader of the House said that he would look into the question, which was becoming urgent, of the Minister of Defence making a statement about Service pay, since when nothing has happened. Can he now assure the House that it will be made next week, because it is long overdue?

I promised to chase up the matter with my right hon. and hon. Friends who are responsible for defence. In fact, one of them made a statement the other day. The matter is still being discussed by the National Board for Prices and Incomes, to which the Ministry of Defence has submitted evidence. I will certainly convey to my right hon. Friend the urgency of the matter and the feelings of all hon. Members.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Select Committee considering the law of privilege met soon after the return of this Parliament, and that his predecessor has twice been asked when the House is to consider its Report? Will he not consider an early date for discussing this matter, which may be academic at present but could become of urgent practical importance before the Session is out?

Perhaps my right hon. Friend will have a word with me about it. I will look into his point.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in spite of the fact that already 42 Clauses of the Transport Bill have been guillotined without discussion, this morning the Government tabled a new Clause which in itself sets out a major piece of legislation for a Channel Tunnel Planning Council and that there is no possibility of this major piece of new legislation having any discussion under the present guillotine Motion? In his capacity of Leader of the whole House, will the right hon. Gentleman see to it that the new Clause is dropped and that a separate piece of legislation is introduced?

I am always ready to consider the views of hon. Members. But, as I understand, since the guillotine Motion, the whole of Part VI of the Bill, amounting to 24 Clauses and two Schedules, have been removed. I am informed that the new Clause and Schedule about a Channel Tunnel Planning Council which appeared today is noncontroversial—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It concerns the setting up of what is really a study group. I will have a talk with my right hon. Friend, but I should have thought that it was a non-controversial Clause.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, some weeks ago, a whole day was given for a debate on the Estimates Committee's Report on Prisons and Borstals, but that the business was rearranged to allow the Second Reading of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill. Can he say when that day is to be given back to enable discussion of the Committee's Report?

I cannot say that this will happen next week. I am announcing next week's business. I know of her strong views or the subject, on which she has made representations to me. I will bear them in mind. I then promised half a day, which was not taken, but I will look at this matter.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when he will find time to discuss the Motion in my name and that of practically every hon. Member on this side of the House who is a member of the Standing Committee which is considering the Finance Bill, expressing no confidence whatever in the atrocious arrangements made by the Services Committee for the consideration of the Bill? Further, will he learn from what has happened what an atrociously bad experiment this was, which was spawned by his predecessor, now Lord President of the Council?

[ That this House, having regard to the arrangements made for the accommodation of the Standing Committee considering the Finance Bill, has no confidence in the Services Committee.]

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) made representations to me, and I acted upon them immediately. Last night, I paid a visit to the Committee room. I agree with him that the arrangements are not satisfactory. I believe that it was wrong for seats to be taken from the Opposition for reporters, for example. Alterations will be made. I am bearing in mind other matters, including ventilation in the room. The Chairman of the Standing Committee, the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings), has written to me. I am calling a meeting of the Services Committee, and I will follow through these matters. But I have acted already.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. So that a matter of some importance to the House may be dealt with concurrently with the first question, could you give a Ruling on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker)? The House, under your chairmanship, sent to the Standing Committee the power to guillotine the Transport Bill. When the power was sent to the Committee, the extent of the Bill was known to the House. If the Bill has been extended by the inclusion of another Clause, the Standing Committee is not keeping within the instruction given by the House under your leadership. Have you any way of stepping in to prevent this happening?

The hon. Gentleman knows that his hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) has raised this matter with the Leader of the House. It is not a matter for the Chair.

Next Thursday is the date of the municipal elections, on which day many hon. Members like to be active in their constituencies. In view of the business which my right hon. Friend has just announced, it sounds suspiciously as if a three-line Whip will be imposed on hon. Members opposite on that day. Would my right hon. Friend attempt to persuade the Opposition that this is not a good occasion to keep Members away from the places where they should be?

I could not accept my hon. Friend's advice. He must appreciate that an hon. Member's first responsibility is to the House.

May I return to the question of time for a debate on Motion No. 259, and the point so powerfully raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton)? Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us how it is that any Standing Committee can be required to meet, even for a short time, in circumstances so utterly appalling as those inflicted upon us yesterday in the Finance Bill Committee?

This matter was agreed some time ago. There were some arguments about Room 10 as against Room 14, but I acted immediately. It is intolerable that hon. Members should suffer inconvenience, and I will take the necessary steps. As I said, I acted this morning.

On a point of order. Will you consider, Mr. Speaker, because this is a new matter, whether the arrangements of Committees are matters to be discussed in questions about business for next week?

Further to that point of order. While I understand the protest of the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) about introducing such matters into business questions, nevertheless he and others who may feel like him have not had to suffer these conditions.

While there is some merit in what the hon. Member opposite says about conditions upstairs, it is very much exaggerated. Hon. Members should know this. When we began consideration of the Finance Bill in Committee yesterday, the House should be aware that one hon. Member of the Opposition sat on the floor to show that there was a shortage of space, when there were seven or eight empty seats—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a business question. We cannot debate this.

I am coming to my point, Mr. Speaker.

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that there was, it seemed, in yesterday's proceedings a deliberate attempt by Opposition Members—

I am coming to it, Mr. Speaker.

There seemed to be a deliberate attempt to provoke the use of the guillotine—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I am coming to next week's business—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must either put his business question or sit down.

I have hardly uttered one sentence, Mr. Speaker. There was a deliberate attempt—

Order. We cannot discuss what happened upstair, no matter how interesting it was.

Does my right hon. Friend intend to put before us in next week's business an opportunity to debate a guillotine Motion, as seemed to be the intention implied in the filibustering tactics in Committee yesterday by hon. Members opposite?

May I press the right hon. Gentleman further on the question of the new Clause to the Transport Bill and ask him to give it full and serious consideration? This is a major new Clause, proposing to set up a new organisation and to give it borrowing powers to carry out a considerable operation in respect of the Channel Tunnel. There was no opportunity, obviously, to discuss it on Second Reading, and there was none in Committee, and it is an abuse of Parliamentary procedure to reintroduce it now into a guillotined Bill.

I said that I would look into this, although I felt that the matter was not controversial, but apparently some hon. Members think that it is. It relates to the setting up of a planning council, which is really a study group. I have given a promise to look into this and I cannot go further. I will discuss the matter with the right hon. Gentleman.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is now six months since the publication of the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Techno- logy about nuclear power? In view of the reports that commercial interests in nuclear energy have persuaded both the Government and the I.R.C. to reject the Report, may we have an assurance that we can have a debate before very long?

I accept what my hon. Friend says. This Report is very important and should be debated. I will try to do all I can to speed up a debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Promises."] I will do what I think is right and I give this promise: I will speed it up.

With regard to Motion No. 259 suggesting time for a debate on a Motion of no confidence in the Services Committee, that estimable and worthy body of hon. Members, would not the solution be to bring back the Committee stage of the Finance Bill to the salubrious surroundings of this Chamber?

One of our long-established Committee rooms has several advantages, but I recognise that there have been difficulties. I would like to discuss the matter with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is my colleague on the Services Committee, at an early meeting which I shall call at the beginning of next week.

Are we likely in the near future to have a Ministerial statement on the acts of racial violence in Wolverhampton? Is this not an extremely serious matter? Will we have such a statement?

I cannot promise this for next week, but I will convey my hon. Friend's view to the Ministers concerned.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that over 200 hon. Members from all parties have supported Motion No. 168, on the population problem?

[That this House, noting that England itself now rivals Holland and Taiwan as the most densely populated territory in the world, apart from some small islands and city states, and that the population of the United Kingdom is likely to increase by a third from 55 to 73 million by the end of the century, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to establish permanent and adequate machinery for examining the difficulties to which suchpopulation growth will give rise and for giving early warning to Parliament of such difficulties and to advise what steps should be taken to overcome them well in advance of crisis point.]

Will he give an early opportunity to discuss this vital matter?

I know that the population problem is very important, but I cannot find time next week, although, on some suitable occasion, a debate may take place.

Can my right hon. Friend say what discussions have taken place through the usual channels about a debate on the Estimates Committee's Report on Prisons and Borstals, the opportunity for which was lost before Easter, and whether a statement will be made next week or ever on House of Lords reform?

I cannot give that promise. On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I have replied to his hon. Friend, a member of the Committee, and I cannot go beyond that. I have made my position clear.

Will the Patronage Secretary apply for writs next week for three by-elections in respect of seats which have now been vacant for nearly four months? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, if his right hon. Friend does not so apply next week, the earliest date for the by-elections will be the end of June, which is an inordinate length of time, disfranchising nearly a quarter of a million electors?

I know the hon. Gentleman's strong feelings on this matter, but it is not particularly a matter for me—

No, the hon. Gentleman appreciates the division of responsibility here. I have to go by precedents and they do not show that there has been considerable delay in this case. There have been longer delays. It is not possible next week.

In view of the shocking rise, once again, of neo-Nazism in Germany, and since this is Human Rights Year, will my right hon. Friend consider introducing as speedily as possible legis- lation to enable us to accede to the Genocide Convention?

I know my hon. Friend's strong feelings on this: quite rightly, he feels much as I do. It will not be in next week's business, but I will bear his representations sympathetically in mind.

Could the right hon. Gentleman clarify his assurance to the Leader of the Opposition about the Channel Tunnel Clause to the Transport Bill? Is his undertaking merely to look into the possibility of adjusting the guillotine Motion so as to permit this issue to be discussed during later stages of the Bill, or does he take the view, which many of us take, that it is his duty, as Leader of the House, to secure that an issue of this kind, which raises major questions of principle, is embodied in a separate Bill with a proper Second Reading.

I recognise, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that I have a duty to the House. For this reason I would like to have conversations with the right hon. Gentleman. I assure him that I will consider this sympathetically.

Can the Leader of the House say whether the Secretary of State for Education and Science will be making a statement next week on student grants, or, if not next week, in any case before the Whitsun Recess?

If my hon. Friend feels strongly about it, I will certainly make his views known to my right hon. Friend, but I cannot promise a statement.

The House will be grateful to the Leader of the House for saying that he will reconsider the very important question of the new Clause of the Transport Bill. I do not wish to press him further on the general point, but he has said twice that he thought this was not a controversial matter. Is he suggesting that because a matter is not controversial this is a reason for denying a Second Reading?

If I have given that impression, I am very sorry. This is obviously a matter which hon. Members and the right hon. Gentleman feel is a matter of principle. As Leader of the House, I must take note of this, and I will.

Is my right hon. Friend aware the debate on overseas aid will concentrate very largely on the reporting back of actions in relation to U.N.C.T.A.D.? Will he provide a separate occasion for debating that?

I am sure that U.N.C.T.A.D. and our actions in it could be raised in the debate.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that for the last 10 years we have had a Committee of this House on the Channel Tunnel, of which I have the honour to be one of the chairmen, and on which we have had more than 200 Members in the last three years, and that on each occasion when anything has cropped up the Minister has always promised, before any final decision was reached, that there would be a debate in the House?

I can give this promise again. I understand that in this case it was a council which was to make a study. In no way would it commit hon. Members to the principle of the creation of a Channel Tunnel. I will note what the hon. Member says.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Standing Committee C, which is considering the Divorce Reform Bill, has now arranged an extra afternoon's sitting each week which HANSARD, for all its willingness, has declared itself unable to report? Is this not a danger which the right hon. Gentleman should heed? Could he make special arrangements so that the weekly pearls which are falling from our lips can be reported for posterity?

The weekly record. This is the first I have heard of this. I cannot give a snap answer, but I will follow up what the hon. Member has said.

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Motion 168, on the population problem, and particularly to the fact that over 200 hon. Members have signed it.

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that there are very few matters which come before the House which are not affected by demographic considerations? Will he not go a little further in his reply to me than he did to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) in promising a debate, perhaps next week, but certainly some time during this Session?

For obvious reasons population problems are important. I have said that I cannot find the time next week. I have noted the views of the hon. Members who have signed the Motion. I cannot promise specifically when there will be a debate, but I will certainly note what my hon. Friend has said.

I refer again to the Committee on the Finance Bill. All members of the Committee are very grateful to the Leader of the House for the urgent attention which he has given to this problem. If it be true that the Press are being moved from the back of the Opposition benches to those benches reserved for the public, will the Leader of the House bear in mind that in dealing with a Bill of this magnitude it is vitally important that the public should be allowed to see what is going on and that no restrictions should be placed upon them?

It is important that the public should be there if they so wish, but I would have thought that the convenience of hon. Members who are members of the Opposition was important, too.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the increasing number of Reports from Select Committees of the House which are piling up without debate? Would he bear in mind that this is not only disconcerting to hon. Members who serve on these Committees, but is becoming almost discourteous to the witnesses before these Committees? Would he consider seeing whether a way cannot be found to ensure that if Committees have reported to the House their Reports are debated as soon as possible?

I am aware of this. I know that the hon. Member is a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and that he and his colleagues have been pressing for a debate on the Report on the nuclear power industry. I have given a reply to my hon. Friend on this, and I can tell the hon. Member that I have already also met the Chairman of his Committee. It is important that Reports which are brought forward by hon. Members should be considered by the House as a whole. I will do all I can.

Would the Leader of the House refer to the Select Committee on Procedure the practice of tacking large and controversial new Clauses on to a Bill which has not only received Second Reading on the principle, but has also been guillotined and inadequately discussed?

Is the Leader of the House aware that if we go on at this rate we shall not reach the announcement next Thursday of the following week's business?

In giving consideration to the proposed addition to the Transport Bill of six or seven pages, which is the equivalent of a separate Bill on a new subject, will the Leader of the House bear in mind that the Standing Committee has almost reached the end of its consideration of the Bill, under the Guillotine, and that the time for the remaining sittings has already been allocated? Should this new Clause be reached, will he ensure that it will not be at the expense of new Clauses moved by the Opposition which would otherwise have been discussed?

Will the Leader of the House, in refusing to give an assurance on the new Clause to the Transport Bill, take account of the intolerable burden that falls on the Standing Committee in deciding whether to shift study of the Bill to the new Clause or whether to continue examination of those Clauses with which we already have insufficient time to deal?

I note what the hon. Member has said. I have said categorically that I will have talks about the matter.

Reverting to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), does the Leader of the House realise that, if during the course of next week the writ for the by-election at Oldham, West is not moved the election cannot take place until June, by which time the seat will have been vacant for over five months?

I have had that point before. The hon. Gentleman knows the situation. It has applied to many Governments in relation to writs.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Committee stage of the Finance Bill will be held upstairs next week and for many following weeks. He will also realise that there is great interest in the proceedings of the Bill. Could he arrange that the HANSARD REPORT of those proceedings is sent not only to hon. Members of the Committee but to hon. Members of the whole House, so that we know what is going on?

This is unusual. I am anxious that hon. Members should know what is happening in all Committees, but any Member can get a copy of HANSARD from the Vote Office and can make suitable arrangements with the clerks there. I do not think that this has ever been done with any other Committee, but I will certainly look at it.

Would the right hon. Gentleman say when we are likely to have the extra hour or two on the Motion on procedure, particularly on the arrangements for Question Time? He will recall that the Motion for procedure was passed by mistake by the Government, and then withdrawn. While there was a discussion on Scottish Affairs, there was still more to be said on this matter.

In view of the anxiety of many British families about the possibility of the United Nations resolution preventing Rhodesians from travelling to this country, will the Minister say when the Government intend to lay the Order in Council, and whether there will be a full debate in the House on this restriction?

I made a statement last week on this and on the sort of procedure that we should need. But not next week.

Do not the matters raised by my hon. Friends about the Standing Committee which is considering the Finance Bill mean that we ought very shortly to debate the Fourth Report from the Select Committee on House of Commons Services about a new Parliamentary building, so that we can decide, I hope finally, what to do about this charming but hopeless old building, which last night showed itself to be insanitary as well?

A Report has been published on this and we ought to examine it carefully. One day we shall have to debate it.

In spite of the assurances which the Leader of the House has given to the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) and to many other right hon. and hon. Members on this side regarding the new Clause to the Transport Bill, is he aware, not only that we shall have no time in the Standing Committee to discuss the new Clause, but also that there is no point in tabling any Amendments to it? If the right hon. Gentleman is unable to persuade the Minister responsible to withdraw the Clause and introduce it as a new Bill, will he at least undertake to introduce a Motion to enable the time to be spent under the Guillotine to be extended?

I am aware of the difficulties which hon. Members foresee about this Clause. I cannot go beyond what I have said. I will look into this very carefully.

Reverting to the question asked by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) and others, is the Leader of the House aware that only about one-twelfth of the total number of Members of the House are allowed to take part in the proceedings of the Standing Committee which is considering the Finance Bill? Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that this is a democratic process? How long does he intend to continue with it?

That could be said about many other subjects where legislation is being put through Standing Committees. The decision was taken by the House. I cannot go beyond that.

With regard to Reports from Select Committees that have yet to be debated, will the Leader of the House bear in mind that the Select Committee on Agriculture reported seven months ago and that its Report contains matters of general interest to Select Committees as a whole, quite apart from the strictly agricultural subjects?

Yes, I am aware of that, because I gave evidence before that Committee. I believe that Reports should be effectively discussed.