BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
May I ask Merlyn Reesthe Home Secretary to give the business of the House for next week, please?
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 1st November—Motion to appoint a Select Committee to investigate allegations against Members of Parliament.
Remaining stages of the Development of Rural Wales Bill [Lords].
And, if there is time, a debate on Welsh affairs.
Tuesday 2nd November—Remaining stages of the Weights and Measures &c. (No. 2) Bill [Lords].
Consideration of Lords amendments to the New Towns (Amendment) Bill, and to the Bail Bill [Lords].
Motions relating to Poultry Meat (Hygiene) Regulations.
Wednesday 3rd November—Remaining stages of the Retirement of Teachers (Scotland) Bill [Lords] and of the Valuation and Rating (Exempted Classes) (Scotland) Bill [Lords].
Consideration of Lords amendments to the Licensing (Scotland) Bill.
Remaining stages of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill, which is a consolidation measure.
Thursday 4th November—A debate on Transport Policy.
Proceedings on the Supplementary Benefits Bill [Lords] and remaining stages of the Land Drainage Bill [Lords] which are consolidation measures.
Friday 5th November—Resumed debate on Welsh affairs.
Monday 8th November—Consideration of Lords amendments which may be received. [column 704]
The House will wish to know that Her Majesty the Queen has agreed to open the next Session of Parliament not on Wednesday 17th but on Wednesday 24th November.
May I put two points to the right hon. Gentleman? First, in regard to Monday's business, will the Home Secretary undertake to table today the motion to appoint the Select Committee? Since the motion is in the Table Office and in the possession of the House, may hon. Members have copies of it today? Secondly, will he arrange to have a debate as soon as possible on our commitments to NATO, particularly our commitment to the Army of the Rhine?
In reply to the right hon. Lady's second point, if the other place is helpful—and perhaps the right hon. Lady can help in that respect—I may be able to find time for such a debate.
With regard to the motion setting up the Select Committee, the right hon. Lady knows that we have discussed this matter through the usual channels. I propose to make the motion available to the House. If a copy of the motion is posted outside the Whips' Office, hon. Members may be made aware of it in that way before it is actually in print tomorrow. I shall do what I can to assist the House.
Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Minister of Agriculture will make a statement early next week on his talks in Brussels on the subject of the green pound? Secondly, in regard to Monday's business, is it not a little rough on the Welsh that Welsh affairs will be discussed on Monday only if there is time left at the end of that sitting and that, if that does not happen, the debate will take place on Friday? Could not the House be given a whole day to discuss Welsh affairs?
In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I shall discuss the matter of the green pound with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.
There is a problem in regard to the debate on Welsh affairs. I wanted to have such a debate on Monday, but it is [column 705]important that the motion on the allegations against Members of Parliament should be discussed and, if necessary, voted upon. I had hoped that there might be time at the end of that debate on Monday to discuss Welsh affairs, but let us see what happens. I am doing my best by giving Friday to Welsh Members.
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
When will the right hon. Gentleman table a change in the Standing Orders to allow proxy voting for sick Members on occasions involving a three-line Whip?
I understand that discussions are taking place on this matter. It is an important issue, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) suffered from that situation some months ago. We are examining the matter.
Sir Frederic Bennett
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware—particularly now—of the presence on the Order Paper of several motions, signed by a number of Members of Parliament from all parts of the House, drawing attention to the presence here of unwelcome visitors. In view of the strong representations made to him, may we debate the matter next week?
[That this House deplores the decision of the Labour Party to extend an official invitation to visit Great Britain to Mr. Boris Ponomarev, the senior member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR charged with furthering the interests of Soviet imperalism in countries outside the Eastern Bloc; and calls on the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to dissociate the British Government from this visit.]
[That this House deplores the choice of Boris Ponomarev as head of the Delegation from the Institute of International Relations of the Soviet Academy of Science, which was invited by the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, since as a close associate of Stalin, Mr. Ponomarev was responsible for the imprisonment and massacre of thousands of innocent people, including the extermination of a large number of Jewish intellectuals and his plan to liquidate the Soviet Jewish minority still continues despite the Helsinki Agreement; and believes that since Mr. Ponomarev was involved in planning [column 706]the invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, his presence on this Delegation may give the impression that the British people condone these inhuman actions.]
[That this House, while emphatically wishing no improper behaviour, let alone personal harm, towards Mr. Boris Ponomarev during his trip to Great Britain, and looking forward to his speedy and safe return home, reminds the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party of the vigorous reaction of the working men of Barclay and Perkins Ltd. in 1850 to the presence of another unwelcome foreign visitor with blood on his hands, General J. J. Von Haynau; and recalls that the then Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston, described the General's visit as showing a “want of propriety” in that he had come to a country where he was regarded as “a moral criminal” .]
[That this House deplores the invitation by the National Executive of the Labour Party to the Soviet tyrant, Boris Ponomarev, to visit this country whose freedom he is charged with destroying; and urges the Prime Minister and all Members of the Cabinet who represent the British people to desist from meeting so implacid an enemy in their name.]
We have already gone over these matters. In politics we all have to talk with people whose views we do not necessarily share, and in international affairs that is even more the case. I shall not be able to find time for such a debate. A demonstration has been made.
Mr. Michael McGuire
Is the Home Secretary aware that many Labour Members, and I am sure many Opposition Members, too, would like at the earliest opportunity to debate the problems of the textile industry, and would particularly like a Government statement envisaging examination of investment grants in special development areas, with a particular view to examining whether there is any abuse in the spending of public money? I wish particularly to draw attention to the sad closure of the Courtauld factory at Skelmersdale, which will make my constituency a desert of unemployment?
We are all concerned about what is happening at Skelmersdale. I shall have a word with my right hon. [column 707]Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I have a problem because of pressure of time, but certainly I agree that the problems of the textile industry are real ones, and I shall do what I can to assist my hon. Friend.
Mr. John Davies
On the subject of the textile industry, which is a matter of great concern to us all, the Home Secretary will be aware that the Select Committee on European Secondary Legislation recommended a series of draft directives for discussion in this House within the framework of a major debate on textiles. The House as a whole would be served by early consideration of the need for such a debate in the light of plans in Europe and the troubled state of the United Kingdom textile industry.
I shall certainly examine that matter. I repeat that there is a problem involving pressure of time, and perhaps the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) will use his influence.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the new day allocated to the opening of the new parliamentary Session will prejudice the Government's legislative programme? Is he aware that yesterday, as reported in Hansard at col. 473, his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said that there would be legislation to enable the introduction of a 200-mile fishery limit by 1st January? What effect will that have on the devolution Bill?
With regard to fishing limits, I sometimes feel that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary thinks of nothing else but fish. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that steps will be taken on that matter. As to the legislation on devolution, the Government have already given their commitment, which I repeat.
In view of the intractable and terrible problems of the people of Northern Ireland, will my right hon. Friend—who, I am sure, knows more about this than practically anybody—seriously consider setting time aside for a full-scale debate on the problems of Northern Ireland?
I wish I could, but my hon. Friend realises the problem of time. I [column 708]wish we could make more arrangements for right hon. and hon. Members to visit Northern Ireland. It is one way in which they can learn of the particular problems of a part of the United Kingdom. I realise the nature of the problem, but I cannot promise anything.
Do the Government intend to put a time limit on the debate on Monday next on the setting up of the Select Committee concerning the allegations about Members of Parliament? Further, is it the intention of the Government not only to put down a motion setting up the Select Committee but also to deal with its procedure and powers?
With regard to the hon. and learned Gentleman's first question, I will check on that. I do not know the answer. I had assumed that the debate would finish at about 10 o'clock, but I am open to advice on that.
As to the question of procedure and powers, perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will wait to see what is in the motion, on which I have spent a great deal of time.
Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Will the right hon. Gentleman be a little more specific about providing time for a debate on the British Army of the Rhine? Is he aware that there is very grave anxiety at home, as well as overseas, about the implied threats that the Prime Minister made as to the possible withdrawal of British troops?
Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that it is urgent that the opportunity be taken to remove the uncertainties which have been created by the Prime Minister's remarks—particularly in view of his childish comment when leaving the Chamber that there will not now be a war with Russia?
With regard to the British Army of the Rhine, I think it right that it should be made clear from this House to Europe that we have a firm commitment there, and that the British Army of the Rhine and the Air Force perform a most important function there. But, in our different economic situation, it is as well to remind Europe that being in Europe costs us money that other countries do not have to spend.
Mr. Ron Thomas
Will my right hon. Friend give us a categorical assurance [column 709]that the Government intend to get through the business that the House of Lords is now attempting to mutilate? Many of us are concerned that fixing the date at 24th November seems to suggest that there is a time limit. We would much rather have an open-ended commitment that we intend to get our business through Parliament.
If it were to be open ended, other major problems would arise. Our commitment to our legislation is clear. Now that the perhaps legitimate complaint of the House of Lords about business piling up on it is removed, I hope that it will isolate the other problem that we see on our side, namely, that the House of Lords seems to be interested in holding up legislation only when there is a Labour Government and never exercises this function when there is a Conservative Government.
As last time there was an unwelcome Russian visitor the then Labour Government endeavoured to placate the Russian Government by handing over the total State gold reserves of the sovereign independent republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—which had been deposited with the Bank of England for safe keeping against the eventuality of these countries being invaded by Soviet Russia—do not the Government's threats to withdraw the British Army of the Rhine, coincident with another Russian visit to this country—[Interruption.]—suggest that the business for this coming week will once again include an attempt by a Labour Government to placate this country's enemies?
There is no question of placating. The hon. Gentleman will, if he reflects on it, realise that he has joined together events which are not connected.
As my right hon. Friend is aware that many of us are not very happy about the decision not to have a tribunal of inquiry into the allegations against Members of Parliament, will he give a guarantee—despite his reply to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson)—that the Select Committee will be dealing with this matter in public? [column 710]
Will my right hon. Friend also give a guarantee that the terms of reference will go wider than the points made in the Observer article and cover the whole range of allegations against Members of Parliament in relation to corruption generally?
I think it would be better if my hon. Friend waited to see the motion which will be on the Order Paper. It is a difficult topic, but we shall see how satisfied the House will be. There will be a chance to debate it on Monday.
Did not the Leader of the House give an undertaking that there would be a debate on foreign affairs before the end of the Session? If that undertaking is to be honoured, as I hope it will, will not that give the House an opportunity to debate the visit of Mr. Ponomarev?
I am aware of the undertaking. We shall have to see with what speed legislation comes back from the House of Lords. I realise the need, but I have not a great deal of time. I shall do what I can.
Will my right hon. Friend consider giving time for a debate—not necessarily on the Floor of the House, if that is not possible, but in the Regional Affairs Committee—on the problems of the North-West, and particularly of Merseyside, especially in view of the recent proposal by Courtaulds Limited to close down three factories in that area?
I will certainly give that favourable consideration.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman several questions? First, will he not accept that it would be quite intolerable if, for the second year running, the debate on Welsh affairs were to be split into two—started at a late hour on Monday and finished off at the fag end of the debate on Friday? It is a miserable way of treating a very important subject. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be the first to agree, on reflection, that that is the case.
Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman give a favourable response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker)? I [column 711]bear in mind that the right hon. Gentleman has not had much time to give undertakings on this subject, but the Leader of the House has most certainly given very firm undertakings about having a foreign affairs debate before the end of the Session.
We are all still longing to hear in a debate as soon as possible the subjects of glut and insufficiency brought together by the Minister responsible for water.
Lastly, will the right hon. Gentleman refrain from following the quite unworthy examples of stoking up fires of indignation against the House of Lords when it has only been attempting to ensure that unpopular and unacceptable legislation is at least scrutinised?
With regard to the last point, it strikes some of us on the Government side that in the days of the last Conservative Administration, when money supply was being built up, and when EEC legislation was being passed, there was not a word from the House of Lords. That is what exercises us on the Government side. In our view, Conservative Governments put through poor legislation as much as we do. [Interruption.] If that is thought to be funny, and the Opposition think that, in terms of legislation and putting it right, there is no need for a revising Chamber, we shall take it into account. Of course, legislation goes through this House and there is a need, under the present arrangements, to look at it again. There are ways of attending to that without a House of Lords, of course. But the point is that Conservative legislation is never touched. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reflect on that.
With regard to Welsh affairs, I do not see us having a split debate. I have no feel for how long the debate will take place on Monday. If it seems to be going on, we shall deal with the Bill but not with Welsh affairs. I thought that I was being generous to the land of my birth by setting aside Friday with no other work on that day.
With regard to a debate on foreign affairs, I will do what I can depending on how the Bills come back from the Lords. With regard to water, I hope that there will be a statement next week.[column 712]
Several Hon. Members
Order. I propose to take two more questions from each side of the House.
Will my right hon. Friend think again about whether there should be a debate on foreign affairs before the end of the Session? The time is now coming when the people of Britain will want to know where the Conservative Party stand on their relationship with Russia. The people of Britain will certainly want to know, in view of the noises which have been made not only by the Leader of the Opposition but also by the vote which took place today, whether, in voting for the Conservative Party they may well be voting for war with Russia.
May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he could ease a number of problems with regard to legislation, particularly that coming from the Lords, if he could persuade some of the Labour peers—particularly some of the recently created Labour peers—to turn up and vote for the Government as opposed to voting with the Opposition? If the right hon. Gentleman would do that, it would perhaps delay, allowing proper discussion, the return of some of those Bills. We would then have next Monday week free, when we could discuss either foreign affairs, and the unfortunate threat to the presence of British troops in Germany, or economic affairs. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would also be able to say by how much the pound has to fall further before we get another debate on the fall in sterling.
With regard to the numbers in the Lords, the hon. Gentleman gives me a bright idea. Perhaps we do not have enough peers in the Lords to deal with the matter. With regard to the Bills in the Lords—particularly the Bill on shipbuilding, without which there will be a severe problem for the shipbuilding industry which exercises Clydeside and Wearside—it is important that we get them through.
In view of the serious threat to the continued existence of the Observer newspaper, and some 100 jobs, could my right hon. Friend find time next week, or before we start the new Session, [column 713]for a debate on the interim report of the Royal Commission on the Press?
I must confess that with the amount of business we have we shall not have time for this, although it is an important issue. I cannot promise that. I do not know whether there are any other means by which this problem can be raised.
Will the right hon. Gentleman try to arrange a statement by the Home Secretary on the subject of police pay, police recruitment and police conditions and also upon firearms certificates?
Recruitment is going up much higher than it has been. The police had a 30 per cent. pay increase a year ago. While I realise the long-term problem about police pay, I think that in the short term, given the pay policy, the police have done very well.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I asked the right hon. Gentleman for a debate and not for a statement now.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Having made those remarks, I do not think there is time for a debate now.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) about a debate on the Government's commitment to NATO, and to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the acting Leader of the House suggested that our ability to debate this matter was in some way dependent upon what the other place might do. Would he not agree that this is a House of Commons matter and may we not have a debate?
Order. It does not matter what the right hon. Gentleman agrees on a point of order. That is my business.