HC Deb 27 March 1941 vol 370 cc709-13
Mr. Lees-Smith

May I ask the Lord Privy Seal to state the Business for the forthcoming days? I would ask at the same time whether he has any statement to make with regard to the procedure to-day.

Mr. Attlee

With regard to to-day's Business, it was suggested that more time should be allowed for the Debate on the Concentration of Production. We propose to suspend the Rule so that the Debate may be continued for a further hour. I think this proposal meets with the general wishes of the House.

The forthcoming Business will be as follows:

On the 1st Sitting Day: Committee and remaining stages of the National Service Bill; Isle of Man (Detention) Bill, and the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill; Consideration of the Motion relating to the Sunday Opening of Theatres. The Government, in view of the representauons made from many parts of the House, and realising the strength of feeling upon grounds of conscience and religion in certain quarters, have decided to leave the question to a free Vote of the House. As the House is no doubt aware, the Prayer relating to the Sunday Opening of Theatres is exempted Business, but the Government consider that it would be undesirable and inconvenient for the Debate to take place at a later hour. Accordingly, we have endeavoured to seek the opinion of hon. Members. It is suggested that the three Bills which I have mentioned should be disposed of so as to enable the Motion on Sunday Theatres to be moved after about 2½hours' Debate, and the Debate brought to a conclusion some three hours later. I hope that this will be agreeable to the House, and that it will be possible to obtain the Government Business to which I have referred, owing to the importance of passing these Bills before Easter.

On the 2nd Sitting Day: We propose to move Mr. Speaker out of the Chair on going into Committee of Supply on the Civil and Revenue Departments Estimates.

The 3rd Sitting Day will be the 4th Allotted Supply Day—A Debate will take place on Food Production.

The Budget will be opened on the 1st Sitting Day after 6th April.

Mr. Thorne

Will the Government consider the desirability of issuing a guide to the War Damage Act?

Sir K. Wood

A pamphlet will be issued, which, I hope, will give general information on the subject.

Mr. Granville

May I ask the Lord Privy Seal, with reference to his statement that there would be a free vote on the question of the Sunday opening of theatres, whether that means that the whole House will be able to give a free vote or whether all the members of the Government will have to obey a Whip?

Mr. Attlee

Perhaps the hon. Member will leave the Government to deal with its own business. The usual course will be followed where the Government put forward a Measure which they desire the House to pass. There have been occasions in the past on which a free vote has been allowed, but that has been on matters which were not Government Business.

Mr. Silverman

Has the right hon. Gentleman borne in mind that on the Isle of Man (Detention) Bill a number of Members have put down Amendments to which they attach some importance, and I should like to know whether any of the movers have been consulted in the arrangements for that Business?

Mr. Attlee

I understand that we have endeavoured to consult hon. Members in connection with that Business.

Mr. Granville

Further to the Answer given by the Lord Privy Seal, in view of the fact that I understand that something like 70 Members of this House, and probably more, are connected with the Government, how can this by any stretch of the imagination be called a free vote?

Mr. Stokes

Arising out of the Lord Privy Seal's answer about the Isle of Man (Detention) Bill, is the Lord Privy Seal aware that there is considerable opposition to the Bill as it stands, that some of us have a good deal to say about it, and that in the absence of any assurances from the Government we do not consider the position satisfactory?

Mr. Pickthorn

Will the Lord Privy Seal repeat his answer to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), as those of us on this side of the House could not hear it at all?

Mr. Attlee

The reply was that every endeavour had been made to consult with hon. Members with a view to trying to get through this Business, and it is hoped to get it through, because it is important to get it before Easter. The House cannot be compelled in a matter of this sort; it is a matter for the House, but it is hoped that the Business may be got through and that we shall not have to go very late on the Prayer, which, of course, can go late, because it is exempted Business.

Mr. Silverman

While none of us want to embarrass the House in the conduct of its Business, still, a very short time is left for the consideration of a number of Amendments which, whatever the House may ultimately think of them, do raise points of principle, and so far as I know no Mover of any one of those Amendments, except one, has been consulted about the arrangements which the right hon. Gentleman announced.

Mr. Pickthorn

When the Lord Privy Seal says that "every endeavour has been made," does he mean that consultations have taken place with hon. Members who spoke on the Second Readings of those two Bills?

Mr. Evelyn Walkden

Will the Lord Privy Seal say whether the Debate on the third Sitting Day upon food production will allow of a discussion upon food distribution as well?

Mr. Attlee

The Debate will take place on a Supply Day, and I take it that it can range over food distribution as well as production. With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), endeavours have been made, through the usual channels, to find out the views of the House, but it is quite impossible to say that every Member who took part in the Debate has been consulted.

Mr. Bevan

Does the Lord Privy Seal realise that on the occasion of a free vote in the House Members' minds are very largely determined by the course of the discussion, and even if his proposal is carried out, it will be a very short Debate indeed; and is it not obvious from what has been said that there will not be sufficient time?

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

Would it not be better to defer the discussion?

Mr. Attlee

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) will realise that there is only a very limited time before Easter. The Government endeavour to meet as far as possible the convenience of the House. It is possible on a Prayer, which is exempted Business, for the House to sit as late as it pleases. All the Government propose is to ask the House, in the interest of hon. Members themselves, to bring this Debate on at a convenient time.

Sir Joseph Lamb

In view of the strong feeling in the House with regard to a free vote, will the Government give further consideration to the decision just announced?

Mr. Granville

Can the Lord Privy Seal give an assurance that any Member connected with the Government who votes against the Government on this will not be asked to resign?

Mr. Lipson

May I ask whether the Bill dealing with the finances of public schools which has been considered in another place is likely to be introduced into this House before Easter?

Mr. Attlee

Not before Easter.

Sir W. Davison

As the question of the Sunday opening of theatres is a matter of great interest, could not we have a Debate starting at the beginning of Business?


That the Proceedings on any Motion for the Adjournment of the House that may be moved by a Minister of the Crown at this day's Sitting be exempted from the provisions of the Standing Order (Sittings of the House). — [Mr. Attlee.]