Secondly, will the Leader of the House put it to the Prime Minister that, although we are to have a statement today from the Lord Privy Seal about the Common Market negotiations so far, if there is any development next week, when the talks are resumed, we ought to have an assurance that the Prime Minister will give us a statement immediately then and we should have an opportunity of considering whether we should arrange to have a debate on the situation?
My right hon. Friend the First Secretary will, I think, be back in the House on Monday, 4th February. I shall, of course, convey to him the point the right hon. Gentleman makes about a statement on his visit to Central Africa.
On the Common Market, perhaps we should hear the statement which my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal will be making presently, and we can then discuss the position, if necessary, through the usual channels.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear, so that there is no misunderstanding, that there are further days available to the House— three in all, I think— on which these particular Supplementary Estimates may be discussed, so that the House would be losing no rights if it decided on this occasion to take this stage formally so that we may have the more important wide-ranging debate on unemployment?
I cannot see an immediate opportunity for that, but, of course, there are a number of opportunities on Supply in the period into which we are just moving when it might be appropriate.
Mr. B. Harrison:
Would it be possible for my right hon. Friend to arrange for an extension of time for Thursday's debate, so that hon. Members on this side who find that they cannot support the Government will have an adequate opportunity of expressing their view?
That is the least attractive reason for a suspension that I have ever had to consider. If it were the general wish of the House that we should suspend the Standing Order for an hour, perhaps, conceivably, we could do so; but I know that Thursday is a particularly difficult day for this.
Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time to discuss the very serious statement issued last night by the chairman of Richard Thomas and Baldwins in which he stated that his company had borrowed no less than £70 million during the year from the Ministry of Power, that its borrowings had increased to £132 million, that its profits had fallen—
With very great respect to you, Sir, the statement was that the company had borrowed £70 million, which, I should have thought, was a matter of very great importance to all hon. Members. I am asking whether—
Perhaps I can assist. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is asking whether we may soon have an opportunity of discussing this statement of that chairman.
The hon. Gentleman will understand the difficulty. If we have matters of emphasis so stretched as that, we use too much time on the business questions.
Will the Leader of the House say whether the Government have deliberately brought forward the National Insurance Bill to Monday next with a view to diverting attention from the Widows' Pensions Bill which I am to introduce tomorrow and which is designed to make certain provisions which are not included in the Government's Bill?
Will my right hon. Friend recall that by the time the debate on Thursday has been opened and closed by four right hon. Gentlemen and contributed to by at least three other right hon. Gentlemen, the amount of time left for back bench opinion on both sides in one of our most important debates will be very small? If my right hon. Friend is not impressed by the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison), will he be enticed by the argument that if he gives more time for back bench opinion, which may be very dubious, from behind him to find expression he may find more hon. Members behind him entering the Lobby at the end of the day?
While appreciating that it is not for the Leader of the House to decide who shall speak, or when, or for how long, will he consider that, having regard to the fact that Thursday's debate is likely to be the most important defence debate that we have had for many years, or will have for many years to come, it may be advisable to have a second day's debate so that a wider representation of opinion in the House is feasible?
Naturally, I take into account everything said from both sides of the House on this matter, but I must not be taken as giving any encouragement to the thought that it would be possible to find two days for this debate.
When will the long-awaited statement by the Government on their attitude to the Rochdale Report be made? Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to arrange a day's debate on it before Easter?
It has been arranged —and I think that an order of Questions has been circulated which has been discussed in the usual way—that Questions referring to this problem shall appear in our roster for, I think, Mondays. General questions about the problems of the North-East and of other areas which experience particular difficulty are bound to be within the ambit of the Motion which the Opposition will in due course table, although I have not seen the terms of it yet.
No. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear that Questions would fall, under ordinary Departmental responsibility, to the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Labour, as the case may be, but that when they covered the whole regional responsibility of my noble Friend they should be put down in this special way.
In view of the long practice of the Government in announcing the sale of publicly-owned steel firms when the House is not sitting, may I ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a debate soon on the steel industry, particularly with regard to the under-used capacity of the industry and the take-over bid of Stewarts & Lloyds for the Whitehead Iron and Steel Company?