HC Deb 24 November 1955 vol 546 cc1653-4

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Prime Minister, in view of the swing of public opinion in favour of the abolition of the death penalty, and of his refusal to grant time for the discussion of the Private Member's Bill introduced to give effect to this, what steps he proposes to take to ascertain the present stage of public opinion as to the death penalty.

The Prime Minister

I will, with permission, answer Question No. 49.

I have no doubt that on this, as on other matters, public opinion will be able to express itself by the traditional means. We are prepared to consider providing time for a debate, but not, I regret, in the immediate future.

Mr. Silverman

I should like to express my appreciation to the Prime Minister for that reply, but when the right hon. Gentleman says that time will be provided, though not in the immediate future, are we to take it that he means definitely time for the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill which I have presented?

The Prime Minister

That is a rather different question. That would be a question of whether precedence was to be given to the hon. Member's Bill. What I have said is that we would give time for a debate on the general question. We are ready to do that, but I am afraid that we cannot do so before Christmas, for fairly obvious reasons, having regard to the state of our programme, but I hope that we shall be able to do so very soon after our reassembly.

Mr. Paget

I am very glad indeed to hear that the Prime Minister will do this, but what more convenient method of having that debate would there be than on the Second Reading of a Bill which is now before Parliament? Secondly, in view of that Bill being before Parliament, would not any other Motion be contrary to the rule against anticipation?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. There neither is nor would be anything at all exceptional in this. The difficulty of the hon. and learned Member's suggestion would be preferential treatment to one Bill over others.

Dame Irene Ward

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that I personally would prefer to have a debate on the Phillips Report?

The Prime Minister

I assure my hon. Friend that there is nothing incompatible in that suggestion.

Mr. McGovern

On the occasion of the debate, would the Prime Minister be prepared to leave the decision of the House to a free vote?

The Prime Minister

These are matters upon which the Government must be allowed to declare at the time. We must take our responsibility in these matters. I thought that what the House wanted to know was whether we are ready to have a debate or not, and I thought it convenient to say that we were ready to have one at the first reasonable opportunity.