HC Deb 25 February 1952 vol 496 cc719-22
Mr. C. R. Attlee

Has the Leader of the House any statement to make with regard to business?

The Minister of Health (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

As the House is aware, on 29th January my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that he would advance his Budget to the earliest possible date, namely, 4th March. For various reasons this has since been found to be impracticable. My right hon. Friend will now open his Budget a week later, on 11th March. I thought it right to give this early intimation to the House.

We also feel that it would be more convenient both to the House and to the Government if the Defence debate were postponed from Thursday until Wednesday of next week. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] This is why. This will give the necessary time to consider the results of the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at Lisbon and also for necessary consultation between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the new Minister of Defence to whom he will be handing over in the interval. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will himself conduct the debate on Wednesday of next week.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hopes that the postponement of this debate will not inconvenience the House, but in making our arrangements we must have regard to both the public and the Parliamentary interest.

The proposed business for Thursday of this week will be as follows:

Mr. Attlee

I have three points to make. I take it, Mr. Speaker, that you will conduct the debate on Wednesday though the Prime Minister may open the discussion. May I ask whether a statement will be made in the House by the Foreign Secretary upon the Lisbon conversations prior to the defence debate? It is reasonable that hon. Members should have this matter before them before we have the defence debate. On the question of the Budget, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he knows of any precedent for a Budget date, which has been announced, suddenly being switched over to another week? It seems to be most inconvenient and extraordinarily incompetent.

Mr. Crookshank

It is hoped that before the defence debate there will be a convenient opportunity for my right hon. Friend, who, I hope, will by then have returned from Lisbon, to make a statement to the House. As regards the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I am afraid that I have not had time to look up the precedents.

Mr. Douglas Jay

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement about the Budget, following the recent announcement of the postponement of the Health Service Bill, can he explain why the Government have got into such a muddle and how long they are going on in this fashion?

Mr. Leslie Hale

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Cinematograph Film Production (Special Loans) Bill is a highly contentious one and that these constant enunciations of a pious aspiration that such an important debate will be concluded by 7 p.m. deprive private hon. Members of their rights and interests in these important matters? As the right hon. Gentleman has now had a week to think it over, can he say when the National Health Bill is coming in and who will handle it? Can it be taken in the extra week now available before the Budget?

Mr. Crookshank

With regard to the first point about the Cinematograph Film Production (Special Loans) Bill, all I said was that I hoped that it might be concluded by that time. Surely I am still allowed to hope things.

Mr. Herbert Morrison

Having regard to the muddle revealed about the business of the House today, and the unreadiness of the Leader of the House last Thursday to answer questions about the business of the House, can the right hon. Gentleman provide a day for the House to discuss the duties of the Leader of the House?

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain a little more clearly why it is thought convenient to postpone the defence debate until after the conclusion of the Lisbon meeting? Would it not be very much more advantageous if his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary at Lisbon were placed in possession of the views of the House before he finally commits this country to programmes of which we may not approve?

Mr. Crookshank

I cannot help thinking that if we had done it that way round we should still have had a complaint.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell

In view of the postponement of the Budget, can we now have the National Income White Paper and the Economic Survey before the Budget takes place?

Mr. Crookshank

That is a question for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who will, no doubt, have noted his predecessor's inquiry.

Mr. Attlee

Surely the Leader of the House makes himself acquainted with these things. After all, he is responsible for providing hon. Members with the necessary information before the debates which he arranges.

Sir Waldron Smithers

As my right hon. Friend now has another week before the Budget, will he publish an official statement about the awful mess left by the Socialist Government?

Mr. A. C. Manuel

Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Health Service Bill will be discussed as there is now a further week to play about with?

Mr. Crookshank

I am not dealing with the general business of the House. I am dealing with the alterations arising out of these decisions.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton

Can the Leader of the House say—he has not told us yet—why it has been found necessary to postpone the Budget by one week?

Mr. Jay

If the Leader of the House cannot answer any other questions, can he at least give us a firm assurance that the Budget really will be opened on 11th March?