HC Deb 10 February 1947 vol 433 cc1390-5
Mr. Eden

May I ask the acting Leader of the House to tell us the Business for next week?

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)

Yes, Sir. The Business for next week will be as follows:

Monday, 24th February—Second Reading of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Bill, and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolutions.

Tuesday, 25th February—A Debate on Palestine will take place on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday, 26th February—There will be an opportunity for a Debate on the resumption of industry and domestic fuel distribution on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday, 27th February—First allotted Supply day. Civil and Revenue Departments, Vote on Account, 1947–48—Committee stage. A Debate on foreign affairs will take place.

Friday, 28th February—Committee stage of Supplementary Estimates contained in Paper No. 46, beginning with the Control Office for Germany and Austria; Diplomatic and Consular Services; United Nations; Assistance to Greece, and progress with other outstanding Votes in Committee and on Report.

During the week we shall ask the House to agree to the Report stage of Navy and Army Supplementary Estimates, 1946–47.

Mr. Eden

No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the Business of next week, and the Business the House will have to do when we come to consider the Government's White Paper on Economic Policy, is of outstanding importance. Will he reassure us that some reports we have heard of the possibility of Standing Committees meeting in the afternoon will not, in any circumstances, take shape while the House has to deal with matters of this urgency at this particular time?

Mr. Greenwood

I appreciate the tact that Members are working hard on Standing Committees, but the King's Speech laid down these Measures, and we must proceed with them as quickly and expeditiously as possible, having regard to the ordinary decencies of full discussion. That does not necessarily mean that we can always give up Sittings of Committees in the afternoon. I appreciate the importance of the Debate to which the right hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the Opposition pay a good deal of attention, and we will give that Debate a proper chance. If the right hon. Gentleman would like to discuss, through the usual channels, whether satisfactory arrangements. can be made for the conduct of the Committees, I shall be happy to do so.

Mr. Eden

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that there really is no precedent for asking Standing Committees to meet in the afternoons, except in the closing stages of the Session to finish a Bill? The only assurance I am asking for is that we should make quite certain that Members of this House will he free to discuss the most important subjects which can come before it.

Mr. Greenwood

I have said that I am prepared to consider that, in a most friendly way, with the right hon. Gentleman. It is not a question of lateness in the Session, but a question of pressure on the Government and the time available, having regard to the character of the Measures.

Mr. Stephen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are precedents for Committees sitting in the afternoons even when we are not near the end of the Session?

Mr. Janner

Will an early opportunity be given to the House to consider the Denning Report on divorce; and will such Measures as are necessary be put into effect?

Mr. Greenwood

I really cannot hold out any opportunity of bringing in any more legislation, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's appeal.

Mr. Eden

Arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's statement on Business, in which he says he will ask the House to agree to the Report stage of the Navy and Army Supplementary Estimates, 1946–47, he will understand that there is an item of some importance, the expenditure of some £20 million of the taxpayers' money, in the Army Supplementary Estimate, about which we are awaiting a satisfactory answer. May I ask for an assurance that this will be taken at a reasonably late hour?

Mr. Greenwood

I am perfectly well aware of the anxiety of the House; perhaps we can come to an agreement on the matter through the usual channels.

Mr. Churchill

Has not the acting Leader of the House announced an entirely new departure in respect of Standing Committees sitting in the afternoons, otherwise than for the completion of business at the end of the Session? Is not this process going to lead to a grave contraction of Parliamentary effectiveness? In the first instance, Measures are sent up to the Standing Committees and the House is deprived of an opportunity of discussing them in Committee of the Whole House, and then these Committees upstairs are made to sprawl over the afternoons, so that Members will not be able to return to the discussion of the Report stage of other Measures which have been disposed of equally summarily in Grand Committees. Is this not a shameful rupture and restriction of the long-established Parliamentary processes of debate?

Mr. Greenwood

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has not had an extensive experience of Standing Committee work. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is true, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. This is not a departure in principle at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] Hon. Members now on this side of the House have in the past been punished by a very hard, bitter and vicious Conservative Government in regard to sittings in the afternoons, and when I have been in Opposition I have raised the same matter myself. I have made an offer to the right hon. Gentleman to discuss this question, and I am prepared to discuss it through the usual channels. I am bound to say that I have objections to the right hon. Gentleman's intervention, starting a Debate on a matter which is obviously one which ought to be discussed through the usual channels, with a view to causing the minimum inconvenience to the House.

Mr. Churchill

Is it not a question, not of starting a Debate on a new topic, but of whether the right hon. Gentleman has announced a new departure? If he has announced no new departure in principle, and if it is only a question of some easement being required, then it is proper that such discussions should be through the usual channels. But if, first of all, he is going to send great Measures upstairs for prolonged discussion there, which will mean that Members will be locked up there in important Debates, with the result that the House of Commons will he mutilated for the sake of the Standing Committees upstairs, then this is the proper place to discuss such a matter.

Mr. Greenwood

Any Government determines what Bills should go to Standing Committee. That is the Government's right, and we shall retain it. [HON. MEMBERS "The House's right."] So long as we command the majority, it is the Government's right. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this is not a departure in principle, but we are prepared to see what we can do for the easement of Members of the House in a matter which affects far more people on this side than on the other side. We shall do our hest, through the usual channels, to see how we can make the Committee system work to the best advantage.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones

Before the Estimates are discussed next week, is it the intention of the Government to make a statement about battle training areas, and to publish a White Paper on the matter?

Mr. Greenwood

I believe that a Question about battle training areas is due to be answered some time next week.

Major Cecil Poole

Will the acting Leader of the House make it quite clear that the Government will have no nonsense in this matter of Standing Committees, and that they are determined to have the Transport Bill at the time at which they have decided—

Earl Winterton


Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

The hon. and gallant Member for Lich-held (Major Poole) is now discussing a matter of which we have disposed.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay

In regard to Tuesday's Business, I gather that there will be no objection to suspending the Rule, in view of the important statement made by the Foreign Secretary last week?

Mr. Greenwood

I do not want to be unreasonable, and if it were the view of the House that a slight extension of time was required I should be prepared to consider it sympathetically.

Major Poole

On a point of Order. I want to ask whether it is your Ruling, Sir, or a new departure, that the Leader of the Opposition may be allowed to put half a dozen supplementaries while the ordinary back bench Member is to be deprived of the opportunity of asking even one supplementary?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The reason why I took exception to the hon. arid gallant Member's supplementary, a few moments ago, was that I understood that we had disposed of that matter.

Mr. Edgar Granville

Reverting to the question of Standing Committees sitting in the afternoon—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have just said that we have disposed of that matter.

Mr. John Paton

On Thursday's Business, in view of the importance of the foreign affairs Debate will my right hon. Friend consider extending the time for it by one hour?

Mr. Granville

May I ask the acting Leader of the House whether, apart from the usual channels, the House itself will be given an opportunity of discussing any proposal that Standing Committees should sit during the afternoon?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We have already passed from that question.

Mr. Eden

Can the acting Leader of the House say something about the Business for today? There is a large number of Orders on the Paper. Can he say how far the Government hope to proceed?

Mr. Greenwood

I hope we shall be able to dispose of the Third Reading of the Civic Restaurants Bill in a fairly reasonable time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak tip."] I am sorry, but I have a cold; in any case if Members would be a little quieter they would hear me better. I was saying that I hoped that the Third Reading of the Civic Restaurants Bill would not take an unduly long time. It may be that the House does not want to sit too late tonight, but we must make substantial progress. If the House should look like sitting extremely late, however, then the Chief Whip or I might move the Adjournment, on the understanding that we get through the rest of the Bill in a reasonable time.

Mr. Eden

The rest of what Bill?

Mr. Greenwood

I was thinking primarily of the Polish Resettlement Bill.