HC Deb 31 May 1956 vol 553 cc437-42
Mr. J. Griffiths

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, 4TH JUNE—Second Reading of the Copyright Bill [Lords].

Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

Consideration of the Motions to approve the Double Taxation Relief (Estate Duty) (India) Order; and the Draft Calf Subsidies Schemes (England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland).

TUESDAY, 5TH JUNE—Committee stage of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 6TH JUNE—Supply [14th Allotted Day]: Committee.

Debate on the situation in Kenya.

THURSDAY, 7TH JUNE—Committee stage of the Finance Bill.

FRIDAY, 8TH JUNE—Consideration of Private Members' Motions.

Mr. Hector Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, in connection with Monday's business. I inquired at the Vote Office for three documents which are necessary for proper consideration of the Copyright Bill. I wrote to the principal of the Vote Office and asked why I could not get them. I have a letter from him indicating that under a certain regulation he is not allowed to supply them. This is an urgent matter, Mr. Speaker, because hon. Members cannot properly consider the Copyright Bill unless these documents are available. The letters are short, and, perhaps you will allow me to read them to you so that you—

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that we can deal with the matter in that way. There is a restriction, by Treasury rules of long standing, on what documents can be supplied. Moreover, it is not possible for the Vote Office to have every conceivable document which the hon. and learned Member may think necessary for consideration of the subject in hand. 1f he will come to see me about the matter. and have a word with me, I will try to do what I can to help him.

Mr. Hughes

May I make it clear, Mr. Speaker, that I am not making any complaint whatsoever against or about the officer in the Vote Office, who was merely doing his duty. However, of the three documents, two are Command Papers, comparatively recent ones, and the other is the Copyright Act, 1911.

Mr. Speaker

It would be a waste of the time of the House to go into the matter now. I wish the hon. and learned Member would give me particulars, when I will do my best to put the matter straight for him.

Mr. Hughes

This is a most serious matter, Mr. Speaker, for we are to consider the Copyright Bill on Monday and we have only the weekend in which to consider it now, and we cannot consider it unless we can take the documents home with us. Tomorrow is Friday, and we shall not have access to the Library on Saturday.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

May I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that this is a most important matter affecting all back benchers? There was a case recently, which I brought to the notice of the House, of all the members of a Standing Committee being unable, without paying for it, to get hold of an Act of 1930, which was essential for our purpose. I wonder whether, in your capacity as the protector of the rights of back benchers, Sir, you will be able to bring some influence to bear on the authorities responsible, so that this obvious anomaly may be rectified as soon as possible.

Mr. Hector Hughes


Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Some complaints have reached me recently, similar to that mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), and I have made some inquiries into the matter. I shall pursue them to see whether I can do anything to improve the position. Hon. Members will realise that the main difficulty consists in the forecasting by the Vote Office what documents may be needed by all the Standing Committees. It is not easy, with our limited storage space, to accomplish this, but I will look into the matter further, and if I can help I shall be only too pleased to do so.

Mr. Strauss

In the case to which I have referred, Mr. Speaker, it was not a question of documents not being available, but, according to a Treasury ruling, of hon. Members not being entitled to have them without payment of a certain fee.

Mr. Speaker

That raises another aspect of the matter which I think we ought to look at, too.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether, when you have pursued your inquiries further, you will make a statement to the House upon the matter. Hon. Members have been complaining that these facilities are not available to them, and they are necessary facilities if hon. Members are to fulfil their functions as Members of the House. May I respectfully ask you whether you will make a statement shortly after you have concluded your present researches?

Mr. Speaker

I shall certainly consider this matter again in the light of such evidence as hon. Members supply to me, and I hope that hon. Members who have encountered these difficulties will be kind enough to write to me telling me the documents for which they asked and those which they were unable to obtain. If I have some basis of fact on which I can proceed I can deal, I hope, with the organisational problem which the Vote Office faces, and also with any objections which may come from the Treasury or other quarters.

Mr. Bevan

Would it not just assist your inquiries, Mr. Speaker, to find out the rule which is being applied, instead of asking hon. Members to provide you with instances? That will take longer than it would to find out what is the rule now being applied. The answer to the question at the moment is not physical inconvenience, but that the conventions and rules of the House prevent these documents from being supplied. If the rule is ascertained first, that may short-circuit the investigation.

Mr. Speaker

The rule is easily ascertainable. Why I want particulars from hon. Members is to furnish myself with evidence as to whether or not the rule is inadequate or obsolete. I cannot tell where the shoe pinches until I get the information. If I am given that information I will do all I can to help.

Mr. Edelman

In view of the deteriorating situation in Coventry, will the Government now provide time for an early debate on automation?

Mr. Butler

I think we must examine the situation in Coventry in relation to automation and to the general situation, which I think the Prime Minister would like to discuss with the Minister of Labour. I cannot guarantee that time will be given immediately, but I do not want to underestimate the importance we attach to the situation, of which the hon. Member has close personal knowledge.

Sir A. Braithwaite

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving time to debate the Motion standing in my name and the names of a very large number of other Members of the House on the question of Commonwealth Development?

[That this House, being of the opinion that the development of raw materials throughout the Commonwealth is vital in assisting the balance of payments and is essential to the prosperity of the United Kingdom and of all other countries within the Commonwealth, urges Her Majesty's Government, by achieving an annual economy in national expenditure to make available an amount equal to five per centum of the annual revenue of the United Kingdom for the exclusive purpose of providing facilities of communication, water and power which are essential to such development.]

Mr. Butler

I have seen my hon. Friend's Motion, and, while I cannot undertake today that there will be time available, I will certainly be ready to discuss with him the important issues which are raised in his Motion. I do not want to underestimate the importance of the subject.

Mr. Shinwell

In view of the requests which reach the right hon. Gentleman about the desirability of allotting time for the discussion of important topics, as, for example, automation, alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), and that mentioned by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite) opposite, surely it would be advisable to have Bills to be considered in Committee sent upstairs, in order to afford more time here for other important matters.

For example, this week we shall have spent three days on the Committee stage of Bills on the Floor of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Report stage."] And Report stage, I agree. We were in Committee on one of the Bills. At any rate, I press this consideration. It is in the interests of hon. Members and the business of the House. Would it not be desirable to consider whether some of these Bills should be sent upstairs?

Mr. Butler

This week we have been engaged upon Report and Third Reading of Bills which had been in Committee upstairs, and Report and Third Reading, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, have to be taken on the Floor of the House. The Committees upstairs have been very heavily charged with work, and we could not at present add to that, but when we are planning next Session's programme we shall bear in mind the point which the right hon. Gentleman makes. I would point out that there are the allotted Supply Days, and that it is up to the Opposition to choose for them interesting subjects, to which the right hon. Gentleman attaches so much importance.

Mr. J. Griffiths

While we on this side of the House will take full advantage of Supply days, on an important question like this, concerning Coventry, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that there is some obligation upon the Government to provide time themselves?

Mr. Butler

I could not necessarily accept that in this particular instance, important though the situation is, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are always ready to allot the time of the House to subjects which are of the greatest national importance at present.

Mr. H. Hynd

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman when the Government propose to give facilities for the final stages of the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill?

Mr. Butler

We have done very well to get as far as we have. We shall proceed with the later stages when we have made a little progress with the Finance Bill and I shall adhere to the undertaking which I have given to the House on several occasions, that the Bill will have normal priority with all other business. If we pursue the matter in that spirit we shall make the same progress as we have made up to now.

Mr. C. Hughes

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when time will be given to discussing the Mid-Wales Investigation Report, which has been in the Government's hands for a considerable time?

Mr. Butler

We have that subject in mind. If the hon. Member will exercise the customary Celtic patience I think that he will be satisfied.