HC Deb 19 October 1950 vol 478 cc2231-8
Mr. R. A. Butler

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

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

Yes, Sir. With regard to the Business for tomorrow, after the Report and Third Reading of the Public Utilities Street Works Bill [Lords], we shall ask the House to agree to take the Report and Third Reading of the Allotments (Scotland) Bill [Lords], and consideration of a Lords Amendment to a Commons Amendment to the Maintenance Orders Bill [Lords], so that these Measures may be returned to another place as early as possible.

The Business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 23rd October—Consideration of Motions for Addresses to continue in force for one year—

The Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945: Various Defence Regulations and enactments having effect under the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947;

Motions relating to the Patents Act, 1949, the Registered Designs Act, 1949 and the Shops Act, 1950.

TUESDAY, 24th October—A Message is expected to be received from His Majesty relating to our occupation of the new Chamber to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will move an Address in reply.

A Motion will be moved to convey our thanks to the House of Lords for their courtesy and consideration in so readily lending us this Chamber for our deliberations after our own was destroyed. Arrangements will be made for the Resolution to be taken up to the House of Lords during the course of the Sitting by certain right hon. Gentlemen.

Consideration of Motions to approve—

Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limits) Regulations;

Biscuit (Charges) (Amendment) Order;

Wool Textile Industry Scientific Research and Export Promotion Levy Orders; and

Scottish Milk Marketing Scheme (Argyll) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 25th October—At the beginning of Business we shall propose a Motion to meet on Thursday at 10.15 a.m. in the new Chamber, to provide that no Oral Questions be taken, and to repeal Standing Order No. 113, which relates to our sitting in St. Stephen's Hall on the first day of a new Session and which will now become unnecessary.

Afterwards, a Debate will take place on general problems relating to public corporations.

THURSDAY, 26th October—The House will meet at 10.15 a.m. in the new Chamber. After Prayers, a Motion will be proposed welcoming the presence in this country of Commonwealth representatives who have come to join with us in the opening ceremonies. Perhaps the House will allow me to say now that it will be necessary for us to complete the proceedings in time for Mr. Speaker to suspend the sitting at 10.50 a.m.

His Majesty will be pleased to receive Addresses from both Houses on this occasion in Westminster Hall at 12 noon and hon. Members will already have been notified of the proposed arrangements.

After the ceremony the sitting will again be suspended till 2.45 p.m.

At that hour, Mr. Speaker will resume the Chair and after any formal Business it is expected that Prorogation will take place, and that the new Session will be opened by His Majesty on Tuesday. 31st October.

Mr. Butler

May I put two questions to the Leader of the House? I am sure he will be aware that the Business for Monday next is very considerable, and the day is somewhat overloaded in view of the importance of the first issue. Can we have an agreement to switch some of that business to the next day? The second point is about the Debate on the public corporations on Wednesday. Will the Government put down a Motion on this subject, and if so, how soon can we know the form that Motion will take? Can the right hon. Gentleman give us some indication of the nature of the Debate which is expected on this point?

Mr. Morrison

On the first point, I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the amount of business for Monday. I have a feeling that if there is an adjustment between Monday and Tuesday so as to equate things better we should be able to do that through the usual channels. We shall be very happy to settle it, and we hope that the House will agree that we should have some elasticity as regards the business on Monday and Tuesday. This, I think, will meet the right hon. Gentleman's point. With regard to the Debate on the general work of the public corporations, I think we should, if we can agree, have a Motion because there might be points to be raised which would involve legislation. The idea of the Debate is that we will have a general discussion, and not one on any particular public corporation, as to the general functioning of public corporations, measures for their efficiency, public relations and public accountability, including Parliamentary points which interest the House from time to time. We thought such a Debate would be very useful. It would be a Debate of a nonparty character, and I hope we shall produce a Motion which need not in itself excite anybody with regard to possible divisions of opinion and the treatment of the Motion itself. That was the general idea, and it was thought that it would be a useful Debate. I thought Members on the other side of the House would like such a Debate as well as my hon. Friends.

Mr. Butler

There is one ambiguity in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He said, "If we can agree it." It does not mean that he expects the Opposition to agree the terms of the Motion, I take it? It will be a Motion put down by the Government, for which they will take responsibility?

Mr. Morrison

indicated assent.

Mr. Butler

As to the nature of the Debate, while it will be impossible to leave out any considerations of the attitude of any particular party on such a burning issue as this, we are all agreed that more constructive good comes out of a Debate like this on how to make the corporation function better.

Mr. Morrison

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. The spirit of what he has said I readily accept. In referring to the Motion I said we would do our best to frame it in a way which did not of itself occasion a difference of opinion, but all we want is to enable the widest degree of debate.

Mr. Clement Davies

While realising that the time between now and Prorogation is very limited, may I ask whether time can be found between now and then for a Debate on the Motion in the names of my hon. Friends and myself relating to the Postmaster-General and his action in refusing to have an inquiry into the conduct of the Chairman of the Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation?

[That this House deplores the action of the Postmaster-General in refusing to institute an inquiry into the action of the Chairman of the Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation in banning the play Party Manners from the television service.]

I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman could find time, either on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Mr. Morrison

I am very sorry, but I am afraid it is quite impossible to find time for a Debate on that Motion in the time at our disposal.

Mr. Davies

May I put this to the right hon. Gentleman? This is a matter of great and immediate public interest. It is really a question of whether the Chairman of the Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation can constitute himself an arbiter of public taste and whether the Postmaster-General is right in refusing to inquire into it. There does not seem, on the face of it, to be enough business to occupy the full time of the House on Tuesday and Wednesday. Could not some portion of either Tuesday or Wednesday be devoted to a Debate on this quite urgent matter?

Mr. Morrison

I thought it was clear that the time on Tuesday and Wednesday was fully taken up. I am bound to say I did think that the letter which the Postmaster-General sent in reply to the first letter of the right hon. and learned Gentleman—

Mr. Davies

It did not deal with the point.

Mr. Morrison

With great respect, I thought it dealt with the point and gave a complete answer. Now the right hon. and learned Gentleman is asking that the Government should intervene in relation to the B.B.C. programmes and day to day management—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am sorry, but that is so, and if we start the policy of intervening and instituting inquiries on particular incidents of B.B.C. management, before we know where we are the Government will be having an undue influence with the B.B.C. [Laughter.] It is all very well—it may be that hon. Members have a bias about this thing—but if we start this, we are starting the business of political interference by the Government of the day.

Mr. Speaker

It seems to me that this is becoming a Debate on the Motion, which is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked for.

Mr. Mellish

May I ask, in all fairness to the House, if it would not be better, in order to avoid any loose talk, to have a copy of this play in the Library?

Mr. Morrison

I think it would be desirable that everyone who wants to take part in the argument should read it and, if I can arrange it with the Postmaster-General, we will put a copy, or copies, in the Library so that hon. Members can read it, including the Leader of the Liberal Party.

Mr. Davies

It is not a question of the Government interfering, but of the freedom of the public and whether their tastes shall be interfered with arbitrarily in a day-to-day programme by the Chairman of the Governors of the B.B.C. without consultation with anyone else.

Mr. Morrison

If I may say so, the Chairman of the Governors is just as much entitled to his opinion as the Leader of the Liberal Party and, when it comes to interpreting the tastes of the public, I am not sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the most expert person.

Sir Ian Fraser

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will draw the Government Motion to be discussed on Wednesday, sufficiently widely, so as not to exclude discussion of this matter, when we are discussing the behaviour of corporations generally?

Mr. Morrison

I will keep that in mind. We will try to have the text in the Library in the meantime.

Mr. Paget

When the copy is put in the Library, will my right hon. Friend see that it includes the passages which were deleted for the purposes of this broadcast?

Mr. Morrison

I do not know about that. We will see what happens. ft would not be quite fair to assume that the deleted passages are necessarily an act of censorship. In all plays there have to be adjustments before the final production, and I do not want to commit myself about it because that may mislead the House and the public.

Sir Herbert Williams

In regard to Monday's Business, the second Motion of the right hon. Gentleman involves a schedule containing 60 or more separate orders, in respect of each of which I want to put down an Amendment to leave it out. I do so in respect of only a few, because it is quite obvious that time will be inadequate for a discussion of all of them, but will the right hon. Gentleman consider postponing the consideration until next Session? He has not to take action until 10th December.

Mr. Morrison

I have, actually, because certain administrative matters are going on and, unless the House comes to a decision about them, a lot of administrative interference is caused and uncertainty is caused to trade and industry. We shall be faced with a broad decision of whether economic planning and control are to go on or not, and it would be better for the House to have a broad debate and come to a particular decision. The possibility of Amendments being put down by the hon. Member and others had occurred to me but, nevertheless, I hoped that by being particularly polite to him that eventuality would not occur.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Can the right hon. Gentleman say something about the scope of the Debate on the first of Monday's Motions, which is to continue the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act and, in particular, whether it will be possible for hon. Members to move to delete certain parts of the Act and regulations made under it? In respect of the Debate on Wednesday, will he say whether its scope will be wide enough to cover the responsibility of Ministers for the answering of Parliamentary Questions on the public corporations?

Mr. Morrison

On the last point, yes, Sir, as far as I know. I am always speaking subject to the Ruling of Mr. Speaker but, as far as I know, the answer is yes and I would not wish to exclude that point. In regard to the first Motion on the Order Paper, again I am subject to your Ruling, Sir, but the Motion is to renew the operation of an Act of Parliament for 12 months. With respect, I should have thought that the only question before the House is whether it will be renewed for 12 months, or not, and, therefore, any Amendment which would limit the scope of the Act would be seeking to amend an Act of Parliament, which I should not have thought would have been possible. Therefore, I think the House on that matter must vote for or against the Motion to renew the Act for 12 months. Again, I speak subject to any views you, Sir, may have when the time comes.

Mr. Butler

Did we understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that it would be impossible to amend the Address which is being moved as the first order on Monday? If so, I am afraid that we, on our side, cannot accept that position, and we should like your Ruling, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

According to the Rules of the House it cannot be amended. An Order is taken as a whole. We cannot pick out bits of an Order and not pass others. That is the rule of the House.

Mr. Butler

Then we shall have to resume discussions through the usual channels about the Business for Monday and Tuesday.