HC Deb 16 February 1956 vol 548 cc2530-4
Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he will state the business for next week?

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 20TH FEBRUARY—At the beginning of business a Motion will be moved for an humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen on Her return from Nigeria.

Debate on the Economic Situation, which will arise on a Government Motion.

TUESDAY, 21ST FEBRUARY—Supply [1st allotted Day]: Committee stage of the Civil Vote on Account, which it is proposed to take formally.

The debate on the Economic Situation will be continued and brought to an end.

WEDNESDAY, 22ND FEBRUARY—Supply [2nd allotted Day]: We shall take Civil Supplementary Estimates, beginning with: Class IV: Votes 1—Ministry of Education, and 14—Public Education, Scotland.

Class VIII: Votes relating to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Class IV: Vote 6—National Gallery.

THURSDAY, 23RD FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Pensions (Increase) Bill.

Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

FRIDAY, 24TH FEBRUARY—Consideration of Private Members' Motions.

With regard to the debate on the economic situation, it will be for the convenience of the House to know beforehand the further disinflationary measures upon which the Government have decided. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will, therefore, make a statement about these measures at the start of business tomorrow.

Hon. Members


Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Leader of the House whether, in view of the grave news, announced an hour or two ago, that the Bank Rate is being raised by another 1 per cent.—to the almost unprecedented level of 5½ per cent.—the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not have made his statement today? Will the Leader of the House explain why the statement is being deferred until tomorrow? May I further ask him whether he is aware that if the Government Motion on the economic situation is what we expect it to be there will be an Opposition Amendment to that Motion? May I ask, thirdly, whether he is aware that we on the Opposition benches would wish to have an early debate on foreign affairs, before the defence debate if it is the intention of the Government to hold that debate in the following week?

Mr. Butler

Taking the last two points first, we shall endeavour to make available to the Opposition the terms of the Government Motion—probably tomorrow —after which the Opposition can certainly take whatever action the right hon. Member and his hon. Friends think correct. On the point about a foreign affairs debate, certainly let us discuss that through the usual channels. I hope that the right hon. Member will be generous about providing time for that debate on a Supply Day. We shall look forward to discussing that—I think it is a perfectly reasonable request—with him and his hon. Friends.

On the question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer making a statement today, that might have seemed reasonable to hon. Members, but we did intend to take the temperature of the House on this matter. Today is to be occupied by a debate of exceptional importance. There are considerable difficulties upon which we have consulted the convenience of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Extending the time for debate was a point I had in mind in considering the convenience of hon. Members departing to other places tonight. There is a difficulty in suspending the Rule and sitting late tonight.

It is important that all hon. Members should vote, if their consciences so dictate, tonight on the free vote. Therefore, we thought it wrong to interrupt the business today on an exceptionally human and vital question. It was after the most serious consideration that we decided that the statement by the Chancellor should be made tomorrow. That has been done quite sincerely in the interests of the House.

It would have been possible for my right hon. Friend simply to make a statement at the beginning of the debate on Monday, but I thought it would be more convenient, especially for hon. Members opposite, if we were to indicate the nature of the measures the Government have in mind. That would give at least a weekend for consideration of them by the House and the country before the debate takes place on Monday and Tuesday. Therefore, in both respects, we are trying to meet the convenience of hon. Members and the House.

Mr. Bellenger

Is the House really to understand from the remarks just made by the Lord Privy Seal that he thinks the convenience of the country is being served if economic matters affecting the whole country are disposed of tomorrow because of a debate on capital punishment today? It seems to me out of all proportion.

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. There is no question of these matters being disposed of tomorrow. If the words "disposed of" are to be used, they are to be disposed of on Monday and Tuesday. The simple question is whether advance notice should be given to right hon. and hon. Members opposite so that they and the country can consider the measures the Government have in mind before the debate takes place on Monday and Tuesday, when those matters can be discussed.

Mr. Shinwell

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the White Paper on Defence will be made available?

Mr. Butler

I have not got the exact date, but I will inform the House at the earliest possible opportunity.

Sir E. Errington

May I ask the Lord Privy Seal——

Mr. Ellis Smithrose——

Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) rise to a point of order? Sir Eric Errington.

Mr. Ellis Smithrose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Sir Eric Errington.

Mr. Ellis Smithrose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South wishes to ask a question he must take his turn with other hon. Members. Sir Eric Errington.

Sir E. Errington

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware of a difficulty that arises in connection with the Pensions (Increase) Bill, which contains the principle of increases for Service pensioners but no details thereof? In order that there may be adequate discussion, is he prepared to lay a White Paper before the House, giving the details, so that the matter can be discussed fully on Thursday?

Mr. Butler

The question whether these matters can be discussed on present form is a matter for the chair, on which I cannot interfere, but I will inquire whether we can comply with the request made by my hon. Friend for further information.

Mr. Stokes

On the question of the Defence White Paper, may I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether we are to understand that the notices widely published in the Press that the White Paper will be out tomorrow are incorrect?

Mr. Butler

I wanted just to take counsel, in the light of the statement on economic affairs, whether that still prevails, but I understand that the Defence White Paper will still be published tomorrow.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, prior to meetings of the National Joint Advisory Council, the economic section of the Treasury issues very fine documents for the Council's consideration, and that the same thing applies in regard to other bodies? If that can be done for this Council, surely it is reasonable to suggest that documents on the economic situation should be issued for the consideration of the House, so chat hon. Members can look at the economic situation in the light of the information provided by those documents? If the right hon. Gentleman considers that a reasonable request, will he see what can be done between now and Monday?

Mr. Butler

As I know from my four years' experience as Chancellor, there are a great many documents relating to the balance of payments, such as the National Income and Expenditure Blue Book and other papers. I do not suppose that any other country has so much economic information given to it as our citizens have given to them, but I will discuss with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor whether any further information could be made available in addition to that which is already made available by the Information Unit of the Treasury.

Mr. Daines

As the economic policy of the Government is sheer murder, why cannot we have the Chancellor's statement today?

Mr. Butler

The short answer to that is because there may be a reprieve.

Mr. G. H. R. Rogers

May I ask the Leader of the House when the Bill, which was foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech, to apply family allowances to children continuing at school can be expected?

Mr. Butler

I could not give a definite date about that without notice, but the hon. Member is correct in saying that it was included in the Queen's Speech.

Dame Irene Ward

For the debate on the Pensions (Increase) Bill, will the Government also provide whatever information is necessary so that the Royal Warrant with regard to the increases in officers' pensions could be available? Will it also be possible to debate the question of officers' widows at the same time? There is no information on that aspect of the matter, as far as I understand.

Mr. Butler

The question of what is or what is not debateable is a matter for the Chair. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) asked me whether it would be possible to lay further information, and I undertook to look into his point.

Mr. Speaker

On this Bill, perhaps I may say, from a preliminary look at it, that officers' and other service pensions of that kind have to be dealt with under a Prerogative instrument. They would not be in order in a discussion of this Bill, but if hon. Members wish to discuss that point perhaps a little ingenuity in the framing of a reasoned Amendment might bring it into order.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

May I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that on another occasion, when we had one of these Bills, the Chair did permit us to discuss officers' pensions, although they come under a Prerogative Warrant?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that that precedent holds at the present day.