HC Deb 10 February 1944 vol 396 cc1907-11
Mr. Arthur Greenwood

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the Business for the next Sitting Days?

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

The Business will be as follows:

First and second Sitting Days.—Further progress will be made with the Committee stage of the Education Bill, and, in order that we may get on a little more rapidly, I hope I may ask the House to give us some extra time on those two days.

Third Sitting Day.—Committee stage of the Income Tax (Offices and Employments) Bill, and, afterwards, Committee stage of the Re-instatement in Civil Employment Bill.

Fourth Sitting Day—Committee and remaining stages of the House of Commons Disqualification (Temporary Provisions) Bill, and the conclusion of the Committee stage of the Re-instatement in Civil Employment Bill. During the week, if there is time, we shall take the Second Reading of the Naval Forces (Extension of Service) Bill [Lords] and make further progress with the Prize Salvage Bill [Lords], the Guardianship (Refugee Children) Bill [Lords] and the Public Works Loans Bill.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I now give advance information of our intentions in respect to a Debate on the war and the international situation. The Prime Minister will make a statement on the war and the international situation on the first Sitting Day in the series of Sittings after next. In order to allow ample opportunity for debate, I propose to suggest that we should give two days to it. I cannot give an absolute pledge of the date, but, unless anything unforeseen happens, our intention is, as I have stated, and I thought hon. Members would like to know that.

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has now given consideration to a proposal emanating from several hon. and right hon. Members that we should have a Debate on Dominion economic policy; and will he, at the same time, say whether, in view of the limited nature of the Debate to take place on the next Sitting Day, on the Supplementary Civil Estimate relating to Lord Woolton's salary and activities, we cannot have a wider Debate and whether we shall have an opportunity at a later date of discussing the whole question of reconstruction?

Earl Winterton

Further on that point, may I ask is the Minister aware that the demand for this Debate on Empire economic policy comes from all parts of the House, and that hon. Gentlemen are anxious that, in view of the points expressed by two Dominion Prime Ministers and a British Ambassador, the House should have an opportunity of expressing approval or otherwise of those statements?

Sir Edward Grigg

I support the request made for a Debate, and I hope I may point out that, since it was last debated in this House, the question has been debated and discussed in all the Dominions and in another place.

Mr. Eden

I must say that I agree with the points expressed by many Members that this topic should be discussed in the House. What I cannot say at the moment is exactly what date will be practicable. I should have thought that the subject would be Dominion affairs, in the widest sense of the term. Perhaps I may be able, in the next series of Sittings, to announce a date, but I cannot do so now. The Government do understand that the House desires an opportunity of debating it. The other matter raised is one for the House, and I would rather see how we get on during the next Sitting Day before I give any undertaking.

Mr. Maxton

How many of the 20 different Supplementary Estimates put down for the next Sitting Day is the right hon. Gentleman expecting to take?

Mr. Eden

I shall hope to make all the progress in our power.

Mr. A. Bevan

In view of the fact that a very important statement on housing was made yesterday in another place, and the fact that the House of Commons is peculiarly interested in this matter, cannot we have an opportunity of discussing it, because the Debate fixed for the next Sitting Day is almost certainly too restricted and too narrow to enable that to be done?

Mr. Speaker

I would point out that we are really discussing the Business for the next series of Sittings and that when these points are suddenly brought up the Government must have time to consider them, otherwise they will not be in a position to give any answer.

Mr. Bevan

One of the difficulties in which we are placed is that the usual channels are Government channels and, therefore, we have no opportunity whatever, except on this occasion, of influencing the Business of the House. I respectfully submit that that is our difficulty. Unless we had exercised this opportunity over the last three years the House of Commons would have very often been deprived of valuable Debates. I suggest, therefore, that in these circumstances it is wholly intolerable that another place should be the first to discuss the provision of what are largely working class houses. We ought to have the Debate here and not there.

Sir A. Southby

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, in view of the very courteous reply which he gave last week when he said that he was considering the question of a possible Debate on delegated legislation, he now has anything to add to what he then said?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. I have that in mind, but I must warn the House that we have a great deal of legislation to get through and until we reach Supply Days the number of days available to us is not very large. I want the House to discuss the subjects in which it is interested.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

Is it the intention of the Government to introduce a timetable for the Education Bill? Is my right hon. Friend aware that any attempt to curtail discussion on this important Measure would be much resented, and that we had much rather sit very late?

Mr. Eden

I think that my hon. Friend would realise from my answer that that is not my intention. I said that we would allow a little extra time, because we want to make progress. I am reluctant to take that view. In reply to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) we cannot say that no statements of importance are to be made in another place, but certainly opportunities will arise and I cannot at this moment make any special arrangement.

Mr. Gallacher

Will the right hon. Gentleman suspend the Standing Order (Sittings of the House) without limit, on the first Sitting Day of the series of Sittings after next, and in the meantime, would he advise the Prime Minister to stop sending foolish letters to candidates at by-elections?

Hon. Members


Mr. Molson

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he can make any statement as to the prospect of a Debate on the award of the 1939–43 Star?

Mr. Eden

In answer to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), as regards the suspension of the Rule on the first Day, the suggestion will be considered. With regard to his second reference, I would remind him that this is still a free country and that even Prime Ministers can send letters if they want to do so.

Mr. W. J. Brown

May I put my regular question? When will the Bill with respect to State pensions for Government servants be brought before the House?

Mr. Eden

I would remind the hon. Member that, in his absence last week, I told an hon. Member that it would be available in a fortnight. I cannot say when Parliamentary time will be found for it.

Mr. Brown

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he has backslidden, because he says to-day that it will be introduced shortly?

Mr. Eden

It seems to me that "very shortly" and "a fortnight" are very much the same.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. A moment or two ago, in reply to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who asked a question on the subject of a housing Debate, you intimated that hon. Members could give notice to the Government. That is the first time we have had such an intimation or suggestion made to us. I wonder whether you would be good enough to convey to us the appropriate means of conveying to the Government what hon. Members desire outside the usual official channels?

Mr. Speaker

The matter is fairly simple. Obviously, it is commonsense for an hon. Member to let the Government know what question he wishes to ask so that they can give an answer. An hon. Member should inform the Chief Whip in the Lobby and say, "I am going to raise such and such a question."

Mr. Shinwell

That is a method which is often used by hon. Members but frequently the Chief Whip reminds hon. Members that there are the usual official channels, which are sometimes blocked against certain hon. Members.

Mr. Bevan

Have you taken cognisance of the fact, Mr. Speaker, that the right to ask questions of the Government without notice has for centuries been one of the time honoured ways adopted by hon. Members in opposition to the Government? If the procedure is adopted that every time we propose to ask a question about Business it is regarded as proper to tell the Government beforehand it will deprive the Opposition in the House of Commons of one of its most habitual methods.

Mr. Speaker

I do not agree with the hon. Member. I thought that Question Time was merely for the convenience of Members of the House so that they might learn the Business. It has nothing to do with the Opposition or the supporters of the Government but is purely for convenience and it is in that spirit that I made my suggestion.

Mr. Molson

In view of the fact that the Prime Minister promised a Debate on the 1939–43 Star as long ago as last November, may I ask the Leader of the House when that Debate is likely to take place?

Mr. Eden

My hon. Friend will understand that in view of the present pressure on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the fact that he will be speaking in Debate, it would be unfair to debate both subjects during the same series of Sittings, but he has the matter in mind.