HC Deb 22 March 1956 vol 550 cc1466-75
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, 26TH MARCH—A debate will take place on Malta on a Motion to take note of the Report of the Round Table Conference.

Committee and remaining stages of the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation Bill.

TUESDAY, 27TH MARCH—Second Reading of the Underground Works (London) Bill.

Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

Report and Third Reading of the Sugar Bill.

Consideration of the Double Taxation Relief Order relating to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

WEDNESDAY, 28TH MARCH—Second Reading of the Slum Clearance (Compensation) Bill.

Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

Report and Third Reading of the Pensions (Increase) Bill.

THURSDAY, 29TH MARCH—It's is proposed to meet at 11 a.m. and take Questions until 12 noon.

Adjournment for the Easter Recess until Tuesday, 10th April.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, for the convenience of hon. Members, he can say when the various Blue Books and White Papers which precede the Budget will be published, in particular the Economic Survey, the White Paper on National Income and Expenditure and the White Paper on the Balance of Payments?

Mr. Butler

I think they will follow respectable precedents, and in the case of the Economic Survey recent respectable precedents, and be in good time for consideration. I understand that the Economic Survey will be published before the end of March. I will bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the question asked by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bellenger

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that in this morning's Manchester Guardian it was stated definitely that the Malta debate would take place on Monday? Would he therefore look into the department presided over by the Patronage Secretary and consider whether there has been any undue leakage of business to the Press?

Mr. Butler

I know what wonderful sources of prophecy there are in the brightest of our newspapers. All I can say is that I am well satisfied with the secrecy of the arrangements presided over by my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary.

Mr. Teeling

May I ask a question about the debate on Malta? Is my right hon. Friend aware of the very unhappy impression which it will give to many religiously minded people in Malta that the debate will be held during Holy Week which for them, and for many people in this country, is a very sacred week, in which we try not to quarrel about most religious matters? Would he be good enough to let the House know the reasons for which we are having the debate during that week so as to dispel, if possible, this unhappy impression, which will undoubtedly be found in Malta?

Mr. Butler

The statement made by my hon. Friend was in the mind of the Government—namely, we considered whether it was right to hold the debate next week. There was nothing in our information from Malta or from the inquiries we made here which caused us to change the idea of holding a debate, although we had fully in mind the considerations which are in my hon. Friend's mind. Furthermore, we had to take into consideration the answer given by my predecessor as Lord Privy Seal, when he used these words: …no action will be taken until the House has had the opportunity of debating the Report after Christmas, thus enabling the Government to take careful account of the views of hon. Members on this important constitutional question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 1404.] We therefore thought it was important to give the House that opportunity and not to delay any longer. After carefully weighing all the elements in the problem, we came to the conclusion that it would not be offensive to hold this debate next week and to let hon. Members state their views.

Mr. Paget

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us when the Committee stage of the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill will take place?

Mr. Butler

I gave a reply to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), but the last time I announced business I could give no undertaking. I said that it would be treated in the same way as any other Bills under consideration. It will have to take place after Easter.

Mr. Paget

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether it will be the first Tuesday after Easter? I ask him that question because the Ministries of Justice of countries with experience of this matter are sending over some people who might answer questions, and we wanted to know that it would not be on the first Tuesday after the Recess.

Mr. Butler

I am not able to announce the business for the week after we return until just before the House rises. Naturally, there will have to be the usual interchange through the usual channels before the business is finally settled for the week after we return. I think it is most unlikely to be the first Tuesday, but I will bear in mind what the hon. and learned Gentleman says.

Mr. Black

In view of the great importance of the Malta question, and particularly the fact that a very large number of hon. Members will wish to take part in the debate, will not my right hon. Friend consider giving two days and not one for the purposes of the debate?

Mr. Butler

I know that there will be a great many hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate, but I am afraid that we simply have not the time to give two days for consideration of the Report of the Round Table Conference. I therefore hope that hon. Members, both on the Ministerial side and on the Front Bench opposite, as well as private Members on all sides, will be as brief as possible so that as many hon. Members as possible can take part in the debate.

Mr. H. Wilson

When the right hon. Gentleman referred to the remarkable gifts of prophecy which are vouchsafed to the national Press, is he aware that the dates of the publication of the economic White Papers, if not known to himself and the Chancellor, appear to be known to Sir Oscar Hobson, and were published in this morning's News Chronicle? Will he say whether those dates are correct? Further, will he impress on the Chancellor the desirability of printing as many of those White Papers before the Easter Recess as possible, so that they can be fully studied by hon. Members before the Budget debate?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. What Sir Oscar Hobson says is quite often right. After consultation with my right hon. Friend, I will see that these White Papers are available as usual, so that the Budget debate, which is to take place, as is known, in the week of 17th April, can be conducted with a full knowledge of the contents of those White Papers.

Mr. Pickthorn

Since my right hon. Friend has referred to his predecessor, will he correct or confirm my recollection—I do not tie myself to it, for I have not checked it properly—that it was intended, before any Governmental decision on Malta was reached, that there should be a debate in the House to enable individual hon. Members to state their opinions, and to make up their minds, without committing themselves in any way? Does he think, in view of that, that the notice now given, or the amount of time now set aside for what in any case must involve more and greater constitutional difficulties than anything which has been before the House for many years, is sufficient?

Mr. Butler

I think that that lends force to the Government's decision to have the debate before Easter so that, according to my predecessor's words, they may be able to take careful account of the views of hon. Members. I cannot undertake that more time will be given, because we have a great deal of business to do and there is no time available to give.

Mr. Stokes

The right hon. Gentleman will remember that last week, in addition to asking about the Hunter crash, on which there has since been a report, I also asked whether the Secretary of State for Air would make a report on the tragic crash at Malta, in which 35 people lost their lives. Will there be a report before Easter?

Mr. Butler

I spoke to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air after the right hon. Gentleman had intervened. As he knows, on one subject he has heard something. On the other, I hope he will hear something, too.

Mr. Beresford Craddock

Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to consider suspending the rule for one hour on Monday?

Hon. Members

For more than one hour.

Mr. Butler

This will have to be discussed through the usual channels, but if it is the wish that a longer time should be given to this debate the Government will give consideration to it.

Mr. S. Silverman

Referring again to the further progress with the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill, and, in particular, to his remarks that there would have to be consultations between the usual channels, would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this is not a matter it which either Front Bench is officially engaged? In the discussions which take place through the usual channels would it be any great inconvenience to the Government if I were given some notice of what was in their minds?

Mr. Butler

In this case there are channels, but they are somewhat unusual.

Mr. Bottomley

In view of the fact that the Government could not get a quorum once in Standing Committee to consider the Sugar Bill, which has been delayed for so long, could it be put off to allow a second day to be given to the debate on Malta?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. The situation is not as simple as the right hon. Gentleman suggests. The Government propose to go ahead with the Sugar Bill and to get the Report and Third Reading.

Dame Irene Ward

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I would much prefer the introduction of legislation to deal with widows to a debate on the Underground Works (London) Bill? Why should this Bill be allowed to take precedence over the very pressing legislation for which widows have waited a very long time after the National Insurance Advisory Committee has reported?

Mr. Butler

It is very important, in answering the hon. Lady, that we should not mix our metaphors. This is a hybrid Bill. It will have to go to a Select Committee after the Second Reading, if objections are presented, and it is, therefore, desirable to make progress with it as soon as possible. It is for that reason, and not because of the human considerations put forward by the hon. Lady, that we are giving it precedence.

Mr. Fell

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the point put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling)? Next week is a very important week not only to Malta, but to this country, both being Christian countries. Next Monday is the first day of Holy Week. Although my right hon. Friend said that he had had no representations from Malta, it may be that it was not known in Malta that there might arise in this House questions concerning religious topics. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider his decision and to postpone the debate, and possibly give an extra day later.

Mr. Butler

It was not a case of receiving representations from Malta; but inquiries made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Government indicate that it would not violate anyone's conscience if consideration of this subject, in response to the promise that there would be a debate after Christmas, were now to be implemented before the Easter Recess. This debate falls, as it happens, on Monday, 26th March, and I sincerely believe that it will be possible to have that debate and to take note of the Report of the Round Table Conference without waiting further.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

During the course of the Malta debate, will there be a statement of the Government's own view on the constitutional issues involved?

Mr. Butler

I think it can be expected that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will state the Government's view on the Report of the Round Table Conference; otherwise, there would be no reality in his taking part in the debate.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I want to raise two real points of order. I want to ask for the protection of Mr. Speaker and to ask hon. Members in all parts of the House to assist in the protection of Mr. Speaker. My first point of order is based on a long Parliamentary understanding, custom and practice. Having had the privilege of knowing three Speakers, I claim to know just a little about it. One of the most important constitutional rights of hon. Members is that grievances should be redressed, or at least ventilated in the House, before we vote Supply. Mr. Speaker created a very important constitutional precedent about that—[An HON. MEMBER: "When?"]—and we ask for that to be reinforced today. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are not sufficiently acquainted with Parliamentary history, may I say that I am referring to the time when Mr. Speaker defended five Members.

I understand that before the Consolidated Fund Bill receives its Second Reading—and I remember that this was particularly so before the war—hon. Members have a right, within limits, to raise any point on it they like. I am in a strong position in raising this question today, because I was not involved in what happened the other night. Let me make it clear that I am casting no reflection on the Chair, but many of my hon. Friends sat in the Chamber all day on Tuesday and until 1.25 a.m. on Wednesday, when the Government Chief Whip moved the Adjournment.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member means the Closure.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Yes, Sir. Thank you very much. Many of my hon. Friends, including those who speak for large industrial areas, had no opportunity of speaking and I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether you would be good enough to rule on that.

I do not necessarily want a reply to my second point of order today. I want Mr. Speaker to consider it during the Recess. There are hon. Members in all parts of the House, including those of us whose records can, if necessary, be examined, who are constantly being subjected to Privy Councillors not only enjoying their privileges and rights, but taking advantage of them to an unfair extent.

Mr. Nabarro

I am looking at the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell).

Mr. Ellis Smith

In reply to that nasty interjection, may I say that my right hon. Friend has a record which is so worthy that it will bear nasty remarks of that character.

What I want to ask you, Mr. Speaker, is whether, during the Recess, you will consider this matter in order that all hon. Members may be able to enjoy their Parliamentary rights?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) has raised two points which he called points of order. I doubt whether they are. The first was about the Closure which was moved, and which I accepted, on the Consolidated Fund Bill in the early hours of Wednesday morning. In the matter of the Closure I am bound, by the Standing Order of the House, to accept the Motion and to put the Question forthwith, unless the Chair is of the opinion that the Motion is an abuse of the rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority.

It is quite clear that I would not have accepted the Motion had I, in my discretion, come to that conclusion. The hon. Member was kind enough to say that he was not challenging my discretion and, of course, he could not do so, as he knows quite well, upon a point of order. He would have to put down a Motion. So there is no point of order in that. In so far as it is a question of the hon. Member making a criticism of the Government for moving the Closure, that is another matter. It is a matter for debate and not one involving a point of order.

The second matter of which the hon. Member complained was the undue participation of right hon. Gentlemen in our affairs. I have already expressed myself on that matter. It is an old custom of the House that they should be given priority, but, during the Recess, I will certainly consider what the hon. Member says, as he has asked me to do. I feel that this is a matter not so much for me, but for the good sense of the hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen involved.

I myself consider that the old custom is a valuable background which should not lightly be cast aside. It is founded upon the fact that right hon. Gentlemen who have borne responsibility have generally something to contribute to the House to which the House should be glad to listen. That is the general rule. But, as the hon. Member has been kind enough to ask me to ponder the subject during the Recess, I hope I shall, among other subjects, think about that, too.

Mr. Nabarro

I understand you to rule, Sir, that the second point raised by the hon. Member, relating to interventions by Privy Councillors, was a point of order. If so, may I ask whether the privileges enjoyed by Privy Councillors on the Opposition side of the House extend to Question Time? In support of that, I would draw your attention to what occurred on Question No. 39 today, when a number of my hon. Friends on this side of the House rose to ask supplementary questions and five Opposition Privy Councillors in succession were called, thereby monopolising the time and preventing any expression of view from this side. Finally, Sir, might I say that I raised this matter with you a month ago and asked for personal protection?

Mr. Speaker

Question No. 39 was asked by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), and he was quite entitled to follow up with a supplementary. In that position he was like everybody else. The custom does apply to Questions just as it does to speeches.

This is not really a point of order, but rather a matter of the practice of the House and its custom. There is nothing in the Standing Orders about it; it is a question for the House, and the House has its own way of dealing with these things. I do not think that the hon. Member for Kidderminster need complain that his voice is silent in this House.

Mr. Belleager

You indicated, Sir, that the first point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) was not strictly a point of order. Since I understand that my hon. Friend broke into what was a period of questions on business, would you allow me to put this question to the Prime Minister?

Would the Prime Minister agree that the use of the Closure on the Consolidated Fund Bill should be used only very rarely? My hon. Friend has stated quite correctly that this Bill affords an opportunity to hon. Members who may think their views are very important, although the House may not, to raise points at any time of the day or night while the House is sitting. That is their constitutional right. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore take steps to ensure that the Chief Whip uses that power only very, very occasionally indeed?

The Prime Minister

It may be absolutely proper for the right hon. Gentleman to ask me that question without notice, but I am quite sure it would not be proper for me to answer it without notice.