HC Deb 19 January 1943 vol 386 cc44-8
Mr. Greenwood

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he has any statement to make about the business of the House?

Mr. Eden

I propose shortly to ask the House to go into Secret Session to enable me to make a short statement on Business. Afterwards, in public Session, a statement will be made on the war situation, and we shall then proceed with the Business already announced for to-day. As the House will remember, it is proposed to take the Second Readings of the Crown Lands Bill and the Police (Appeals) Bill. On the Second and Third Sitting Days, as at present arranged, there will be a Debate on man-power in Secret Session.

Sir A. Southby

Will the statement on the war situation be made on the Motion for the Adjournment and therefore be debatable, or will it be merely a Ministerial statement which will not be debatable?

Mr. Eden

I did not contemplate moving the Adjournment of the House. I think the general view of the House on these matters is that if we receive any kind of intimation that a Debate is called for, then it is always better that the statement should be made on the Motion for the Adjournment in order that such a Debate can take place. We have received no such intimation in this case, and I should be sorry to give up the right which exists of making statements to the House otherwise than on the Motion for the Adjournment.

Sir H. Williams

Surely my right hon. Friend was informed that there would be a request to have this statement made on the Motion for the Adjournment. It is quite impossible to tell in advance whether a statement will involve debate or not, and every statement which might conceivably involve debate should, therefore, be made on the Motion for the Adjournment. We have an absurd situation if the House has just to hear a statement made by a Minister without any debate upon it.

Mr. Eden

My own feeling is that I am ready to be guided by the House. I think we should be wrong if we were to change what has been the frequent practice—you, Mr. Speaker will correct me if I am wrong—of Ministers being able to make statements to the House from time to time. It is of value to the House that they should be able to do so. As Leader of the House, the line I would always take would be that, if I received any indication that there was likely to be a desire for debate, then naturally I would not wish to attempt to deprive the House of the right of debate, and I should take the necessary measures to see that the statement was made on a Motion for Adjournment. I think that the method we have hitherto adopted is the fairest method, and I should be sorry to depart from it.

Mr. A. Bevan

Is it not the case that this method of making statements has been used more frequently within the last year or two than ever before, and that it puts the Chair in a very difficult position? A statement is made from that Box to which many Members may take exception, or in connection with which they may wish to clear up certain matters, and they can only do so by question and answer, which is an extremely limited way of getting information in the House, and the result is that an entirely false impression of what hon. Members think is created outside among the general public. Would it not be very much better to make statements on the Motion for the Adjournment, so that Members can make short speeches if they wish?

Mr. Eden

I do not think that I can really add very much to what I have said. I certainly have no desire to embarrass the Chair, and I was not conscious that I was doing so. We must really be guided by how we get on. If there were a feeling in this House that statements repeatedly made on the progress of the war could only be made on the Adjournment, I would have to take account of it. I think that the Leader of the House can surely be trusted to judge whether the feeling of the House is that they want to have a Debate or not. I have not had the slightest indication that anybody wants a Debate to-day, and so I propose to proceed as I have suggested.

Mr. Levy

May I ask my right hon. Friend how he can possibly receive an indication as to whether a Debate on a statement is required or not until such statement has been made?

Mr. Eden

I can assure my hon. Friend we have often had indications.

Mr. Hopkinson

Is it not the fact that if the Government realise that every statement they make will be the subject of debate, the House will be deprived of a large number of voluntary statements in the future, and therefore we should be ill-advised to press the right hon. Gentleman too far?

Commander Bower

Have we not had a very good example in the statement which has just been made by the Minister of Production, and would it not have been very much better if it had been made on a Motion? Is it not a matter for this House in this Chamber to decide whether it wants to have a statement on a Motion or not? It should be expected that a statement is always made on a Motion and that only in exceptional circumstances should it be made without.

Captain Duncan

Mr. Speaker, would it not be very much better and of assistance to you to go back to the old system of the Private Notice Question, so that there would be an opportunity for you to consider what a statement contained and whether it would be a good thing to address a Private Notice Question or not?

Mr. Speaker

We have that system still in operation.

Sir Ernest Graham-Little

May I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether he will give time for a discussion of the present critical position of the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University, in view of the extreme urgency occasioned by the preparations now in progress to evict the School from its present building, the removal from which the School feels would irretrievably injure its work?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir, I am afraid I cannot undertake here and now to give time. I have been consulting about the matter with some of my right hon. Friends, and I am hopeful that some arrangement can be arrived at which may be satisfactory to those concerned. Personally, I take an interest in this matter myself, and I think we should try and do what we can. At the same time, the House must also understand that my right Hon. Friend the Minister in charge has an extremely difficult task in making these allocations.

Sir E. Graham-Little

While I appreciate this very sympathetic answer, I hope that my right hon. Friend will realise that this matter is of exceptional importance to the constituency that I represent, and I therefore give notice that I propose to raise it on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.

Sir Hugh O'Neill

May I ask my right hon. Friend when it will be possible for the Government to make a statement with regard to the question of the shackling of prisoners? It is now over a month since a statement was made. I understand that we heard to-day in reply to a Question that our prisoners are still being shackled in Germany, and the House ought to know what the position is and what prospect there is of improvement.

Mr. Eden

I fully understand the desire of the House to know about that matter. The only reason why a statement has not been made before is that we desire to do everything we can through the Protecting Power and not to injure any prospects that there might be of improvement. I would anticipate, therefore, that a statement will probably be made very soon indeed.

Sir A. Knox

Is it possible for the Protecting Power to arbitrate on the question?

Mr. W. Brown

May I ask the Leader of the House when he thinks it may be possible for the House to debate the Report of the Select Committee on Public Expenditure on the Organisation and Control of the Civil Service?

Mr. Eden

I hope that it will be at a very early Sitting, but I cannot actually fix the day.