HC Deb 10 March 1949 vol 462 cc1398-402
Mr. Churchill

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he is in a position to make any statement to us today upon the course of Business next week?

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

The Business for next week will be as follows:

Monday, 14th March—Supply (6th allotted Day); Report stage of the Civil Vote on Account. Debate on the East African Groundnuts Scheme.

Tuesday, 15th March—Supply (7th allotted Day); Is is proposed to move Mr. Speaker out of the Chair on Air Estimates, 1949–50, and to consider Votes A, 1, 2, 7, 8 and 10, and Air Supplementary Estimate, 1948–49 in Committee.

Wednesday, 16th March—Second Reading of the Housing Bill, and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

Thursday, 17th March—Supply (8th allotted Day) Committee. The Supplementary Estimates for the House of Commons; Government Hospitality; the Board of Trade; Miscellaneous Works Services; the Ministry of Supply; and the Ministry of Food will be considered.

At 9.30 p.m. the Questions will be put from the Chair on the Vote under discussion and on all outstanding Estimates, Supplementary Estimates and Excess Votes required before the end of the financial year.

Consideration of Motion to approve the Post Office (Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland) Agreement.

Friday, 18th March—Consideration of Private Members' Bills.

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to announce that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget on Wednesday, 6th April.

Mr. Clement Davies

May I ask the Lord President of the Council whether his attention has been called to a Notice of Motion standing in the names of my hon. Friends and myself with regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Is it the intention of the Government to make any statement with regard to that Universal Declaration, and if not, is he prepared to provide time for a Debate upon the Motion?

[That this House welcomes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and calls upon His Majesty's Government to give full effect to the Declaration, including the necessary amendment of British and Colonial Legislation. ]

Mr. Morrison

As regards a statement, I have a feeling that statements have been made on behalf of the Government about the Declaration of Human Rights, and my recollection is, broadly speaking, that His Majesty's Government are in accord with it and that our practice is in accord with it. I do not think there is dispute between us, and I should not have thought it was necessary to provide a special opportunity for Debate, though it might come up for consideration on one Supply Day or another.

Mr. Davies

May I put to the right hon. Gentleman that further legislation may be necessary if this full Declaration is adopted? It was on that matter that we required further information.

Mr. Morrison

I suggest that if there are points on which the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks our legislative provision is not adequate, perhaps it would be best if he put down an appropriate Question to the Minister or Ministers concerned.

Mr. Ronald Chamberlain

With regard to the impending North Atlantic Pact, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that we shall be given an opportunity of debating the terms of this pact before the signature of this country is finally appended? I ask that because apparently the French Foreign Secretary and the Italian Prime Minister have given assurances to their respective Parliaments that they will be allowed to debate the matter prior to signature.

Mr. Morrison

I am not an authority on the practices of foreign Parliaments. We shall follow the customary British Parliamentary practice. The provisional signature of the document is the responsibility of the Government. As I have said before, there follows, however, the responsibility of the House of Commons to ratify or not to ratify, and that will give an appropriate opportunity for Debate.

Captain John Crowder

As the Lord President has been kind enough to give us the date of the Budget, will he let hon. Members know as soon as possible how long he proposes the Easter Recess will be? Perhaps next week he will let us know?

Mr. Morrison

I shall try to do that.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Reverting to the question of the Declaration of Human Rights, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that this is really something quite new in the history of international law, indeed in the history of the world? Is it not in every way appropriate that on such an occasion proper notice should be taken of it by discussion of the matter in the British House of Commons?

Mr. Morrison

This is rather a theoretical and abstract doctrine. My recollection is that there is no material difference of opinion between us in the House of Commons about the matter. There is no point in putting these things on for Debate for purely ceremonial and notice-taking reasons. Parliament comes in where there are differences of opinion. My recollection is that there is no disagreement between us about the matter, and I should not have thought the case was strong enough to arrange for a special opportunity for Debate.

Mr. R. A. Butler

The Lord President said that Parliament could either ratify or not ratify the Atlantic Pact. Is it not the case that there will be an interval between its publication and its signature by the Foreign Secretary on behalf of this country, and would it not be appropriate for a statement to be made in Parliament in order that the views of Parliament may at least be heard? We need not decide at present the question of a Debate before the Foreign Secretary proceeds to sign this very important document.

Mr. Morrison

That would be most unusual in our practice. The Government must make up its mind whether it, as a Government, assents to the Treaty. If it does, it must take the responsibility of signing, subject to Parliamentary ratification. No doubt at the appropriate time my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a statement to the House, when the House can put supplementary questions if it so wishes. We shall, of course, provide facilities for a Debate on the issue of ratification. That is the right procedure; the Government must take its responsibility, but Parliament has its full responsibility and the right to disagree with the Government if it so wishes.

Mr. Warbey

As we are dealing here with what is really a far-reaching, new departure of policy, surely the policy underlying the proposal for the Pact might very well be debated by this House before the actual terms are signed, more particularly in view of the fact that members of the parliaments of other countries, especially of the American Congress, apparently have had an opportunity of discussing this matter long before we have.

Mr. Morrison

If I may say so, this is very premature. My hon. Friend has not seen the Pact, as far as I know. [Interruption.] He has not seen it, as far as I know. Therefore, he is presuming rather a lot. He really had better wait until he has seen the Pact: then he will be in a better position to discuss its merits.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Does the doctrine which the right hon. Gentleman has enunciated about the Atlantic Pact apply also to the European Consultative Assembly? Are we to understand that there is to be no Debate in this House until after governments have fixed the basis of a European Consultative Assembly?

Mr. Morrison

That is in a different category altogether. In the case of the Atlantic Pact we are dealing with something in the nature of a treaty—I think it will be a treaty. Therefore, the doctrine applies to that quite categorically. The European Council is another matter.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey), in the case of the United States Constitution, of course, the Senate has particular responsibilities under their Constitution; but we really must not drift into the doctrine that what is proper under the constitution of foreign countries is necessarily proper under the practice of our ancient British Parliament.