HC Deb 11 June 1953 vol 516 cc475-8

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House, at its rising Tomorrow, do adjourn till Tuesday next.—[Mr. Crookshank.]

Mr. Simmons

I know that the House has been delayed for quite a time already and I promise not to be very long, but before we sacrifice a Parliamentary day we ought to know what is destined for the sacrificial altar. I raise this matter without any disrespect to the Spithead Naval Review or to the British and Soviet Navies. I am concerned about Command Paper 8842 entitled "The Ministry of Pensions Proposed Transfer of Functions" and the accompanying Transfer of Functions (Ministry of Pensions) Order, 1953. We were promised time for discussion. Is this now in jeopardy as a result of losing this Parliamentary day?

Can we be guaranteed a full day's discussion if we lose a Parliamentary day next Monday? Are our rights and privileges to be hidden behind the smoke emanating from the Spithead Review? Before we agree to the sacrifice of a Parliamentary day we have a right to ask for a definite pledge either from the Prime Minister, who has left the Chamber, or from the Leader of the House, who is still here, that either this proposed transfer will be entirely withdrawn or that a full Parliamentary day to discuss the Command Paper, and a free vote of the House, will be allowed.

I ask that this should not be treated as a frivolous matter. It is of supreme importance to millions of people in this country who are ex-Service men and their dependents. I am voicing the practically unanimous opinion of ex-Service men. The British Legion Conference unanimously expressed opposition to the White Paper and the body representing British limbless ex-Service men, of which I am also a member, expressed their opposition. I appeal to the Leader of the House, who never treats me with respect, to treat my fellow disabled ex-Service men with respect by giving the assurance that the loss of Monday will not in any way jeopardise a full day's discussion of Command 8842.

Sir I. Fraser

Since the ex-Service men do not want this thing to be done at all it is much to their advantage not to have a day at all to discuss it. May I ask the Leader of the House if it is not true that this merger cannot be carried through save by a Motion in this House? Therefore, if we do not want to carry it through we do not want a Motion, and so to miss a day is a great advantage.

Mr. L. M. Lever

I am sure that all would wish well to the Spithead Review to which we are all looking forward next Monday to commemorate a great occasion in our history, but I should like to reinforce the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) in asking that special time should be given for the consideration of this Command Paper.

I know that I am expressing, as he does, the opinion of tens of thousands of ex-Service men and women in the different ex-Service organisations about the proposed merger; and I am sure that the Government would wish this matter to be fully debated before the merger is undertaken. I hope, therefore, that we shall have a reply that will assure us that we shall have an opportunity of expressing our opinion of such a monumental change.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I do not see what justification the Leader of the House has for asking us to give up a day of his valuable time in order that hon. Members might go to the Naval Review. Every Thursday now for over a year the right hon. Gentleman has said that he has had no time to allocate to the House for important matters affecting the welfare of Her Majesty's subjects. I believe, for example, that the people of this country would be quite pleased if the House exercised a certain amount of self-denial and only allowed those hon. Members to go to the Naval Review who took any interest at all in the passing of the £400 million Navy Estimates.

I remember that when the Navy Estimates were discussed in the House only a dozen of us sat through the debate in order to pay out £400 million for what I believe to be obsolete naval craft. Now these obsolete naval craft, with the exception of some that I will not mention, are to be paraded at a time when we should be discussing the serious business of this House, such as the housing of Her Majesty's subjects in Scotland, the reconstruction of agriculture and the failure of Her Majesty's Government to deal with important legislative matters.

I submit that the Leader of the House should think again seriously about this request. He should remember that some of us are prepared to stay here on Monday to deal faithfully and completely with all outstanding legislation, and with all Amendments that might come from another place. He can go away and take his Front Bench with him to Spithead or Dartmoor, or wherever it is, and leave those of us who are prepared to do the job to carry out all the necessary legislative functions.

I suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman refuses this request he will not be able to come along on another Thursday and hypocritically pretend that there is no time at the disposal of Her Majesty's Government. It is all an idle pretence to say that Monday is anything but a day out. In view of the serious financial position which we are to discuss I am quite sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is now on the Front Bench, is of the same opinion as I am and that we very profitably could be discussing the defects in the Finance Bill and all the other defects in the legislative programme of the present Government.

Dr. Stross

On a point of order. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), in speaking of the Leader of the House, said that the right hon. Gentleman could not come to the House on another Thursday and "hypocritically pretend." I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether that is a Parliamentary adverb or not, because I believe that it was decided the other night that when "hypocrite" was used as a noun the word should be withdrawn.

Mr. Speaker

It is not a Parliamentary expression and if the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) means it at all seriously he should withdraw it at once.

Mr. Hughes

I would certainly not associate the Leader of the House with an expression of that kind and I withdraw it.

Mr. Crookshank

May I briefly point out to the hon. Member that the Motion which we are discussing was foreshadowed before we rose for Whitsun. It was then received with acclamation from every quarter of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It has been agreed through the usual channels with hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. If the hon. Member has any quarrel with its being on the Order Paper he must address his complaints to his own Front Bench and not to me. I do not know why the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) thought that I had animosity against him. That is a complete misapprehension on his part. We have been in the House a great deal of time together, and I think that on many subjects we have thought alike. If the hon. Gentleman wants extra days I do not think it is a very good way of starting by attacking me in the way that he did.

The fact remains, on the point that he raised, that the transfer of the functions of the Ministry of Pensions has to come before the House anyhow, because the proposals require the assent of the House. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it was never the intention to take them next Monday. Therefore, the situation is completely unchanged, whether or not we sit next Monday. As there is a great deal of other business to be done and as we have been somewhat delayed already, I hope that the House will accept the Motion.

Mr. Simmons

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to indicate at 10 o'clock tonight when this Command Paper and the Order can be discussed?

Mr. Crookshank

I would not like to commit myself as to exactly when we can start on this debate or how much time there will be for it. May I leave it in this way, that the Government are seized of the importance of this Order and of the interest shown in it by a great number of all our constituents. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that, at any rate, in some degree he will be satisfied when the time comes. I am speaking a little far ahead because it does not, in fact, have to be passed until we rise for the Summer Recess.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it is unnecessary for Members of the Government to go to Spithead, having regard to the fact that they are generally so much at sea?

Mr. I. O. Thomas

Could the right hon. Gentleman say how many Members of the House have indicated their intention to travel to Spithead on Monday?

Mr. Crookshank

I have not the faintest idea, but I can assure him that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is not going.

Question put, and agreed to.