HC Deb 10 November 1953 vol 520 cc779-81
51. Mr. Jay

asked the Prime Minister whether he will give an assurance that the Government will submit the proposals on television development, mentioned in The Queen's Speech, to a free vote of the House.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman, if I understand him aright, is asking what guidance will be given by the Government Whips to their supporters in respect of voting on television development. Had I wished to be controversial I should be entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman to mind his own business. In the circumstances I shall content myself with suggesting that it might be more convenient to him to read the White Paper before making up his mind how he wishes his own party to vote on it.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. In regard to the procedure which we are now following, Mr. Speaker, I understood you to say that the Prime Minister had asked your permission to answer these Questions or some of them, because of their public interest. May I ask in what way the public interest demanded or required the last answer by the Prime Minister?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the substance of the answer was quite clear. Ministers must, after all, be the judge of the public interest involved in their answers. I cannot judge it because I do not know what they are going to be.

Mr. Jay

As this is a matter of some importance, is it not a particularly suitable issue for a free vote of the House in view of the wide differences of opinion in the party opposite; and, in any case, why should the Prime Minister be afraid of a free vote on this issue?

The Prime Minister

I did not know that the question of fear entered into the matter at all. Really the right hon. Gentleman should concern himself in these matters with his own friends first of all. I have no doubt that he has access to the usual channels, although not one of the usual channels himself. Perhaps, having addressed himself to the right hon. Gentleman whom I see opposite, he will be able to make some suggestions to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Assheton.

Mr. H. Morrison

On a point of order. May I be permitted to put a supplementary question? This is a matter of some importance. I would not press it only—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Morrison.

Sir H. Williams

On a point of order. Why should a Privy Councillor be granted the privilege—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall ask the right hon. Gentleman to put his point of order, but I must point out to the House that it is now twenty minutes to four and that though we should hear these Questions and answers we should not prolong the matter too much.

Mr. Morrison

May I ask the Prime Minister if he is aware that in this class of subject there are precedents for a free vote? There was, for example, the case of the use of theatres on Sundays by ex-Service men in the war, when the Government of which he and I were members gave a free vote and were defeated by eight votes. The right hon. Gentleman has not said he will not allow a free vote. Evidently he has not finally adjudicated upon it. He did ask what were our views and if it were the case, which I think it would be, that the Opposition would not put the Whips on, would it not be suitable that the Government should not put the Whips on? Could he not consider the matter without in any way committing himself as to what the Government will do?

The Prime Minister

I am delighted to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the usual channels are open.

Captain Waterhouse

Does not my right hon. Friend think it peculiar that the right hon. Gentleman opposite should be so anxious to secure freedom of choice in this House and no less anxious to deny it to televiewers in the country?