HC Deb 22 November 1956 vol 560 cc1937-41
Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will announce the business for next week?

Mr. R. A. Butler

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

MONDAY, 26TH NOVEMBER —A debate will take place on European Trade Policy, on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

TUESDAY, 27TH NOVEMBER —Committee stage of the Homicide Bill.

Consideration of the Draft Lace Industry (Scientific Research Levy) (Amendment) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 28TH NOVEMBER —Committee stage of the Homicide Bill.

THURSDAY, 29TH NOVEMBER —Consideration of the Motion to appoint a Select Committee to examine the Reports and Accounts of the Nationalised Industries, until about 7 o'clock.

There will then be an opportunity to consider Opposition Prayers relating to National Health Service prescription charges.

FRIDAY, 30TH NOVEMBER —Consideration of Private Members' Motions.

Perhaps you will allow me, Mr. Speaker, to express the sorrow which I am sure is felt in all parts of the House at the sad news which you announced after Prayers today of the death of Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, the Deputy-Chairman, who, as recently as last night, presided in the Chair. We all feel this to be a personal loss and we wish our sympathy to be passed on to his relatives.

Mr. Gaitskell

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I desire to associate this side of the House fully with what the Lord Privy Seal has said about the very sad news of the sudden death of Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris.

Mr. Grimond

On behalf of the Liberal Party, I should like to be associated with what has been said by the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition, and to join in sending our deep sympathy to Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris's family.

Mr. Speaker

Has the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition any questions about business?

Mr. Gaitskell

Yes, Sir. I understand that the Leader of the House is to make a statement on the international situation. I should like to ask whether he is aware that on this side of the House we may certainly wish to debate the international situation in the course of the next week. To some extent it will depend, of course, on the statement to be made, but in view of the uproar a few moments ago I take the opportunity of saying that I see no reason to withdraw any of the questions which I asked, and that we are by no means satisfied with the answers given to them.

Mr. Butler

As will be seen when I make my statement, the question of a debate must depend upon the outcome of the deliberations in the United Nations itself. Perhaps we could discuss that question after developments have taken place in the United Nations, because I think the House of Commons would wish to consider this matter in the light of the latest information available. We might discuss that through the usual channels.

Mr. T. Fraser

Could the Lord Privy Seal say whether he has yet reached a decision on the proposition that the Scottish Clauses of the Rent Bill might be sent for consideration in Committee to the Scottish Standing Committee?

Mr. Butler

I had the privilege of meeting some hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies, together with the Secretary of State for Scotland. We are discussing this point through the usual channels. I have warned the hon. Member and his hon. Friends of some of the difficulties, which are technical and partly constitutional, and we will convey our decision through the usual channels.

Mr. Lewis

On business, will the right hon. Gentleman, some time next week, categorically deny that the Prime Minister was informed on 16th October by the French Prime Minister of the intended Israeli attack on Egypt?

Mr. Butler

I think that we had better keep to business matters on business statements.

Mr. Gower

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a Bill is shortly to be presented in the House which will involve the flooding of part of a valley in North Wales for the benefit of water supplies for an English city? In view of its particular impact on the life of the people in that part of North Wales, will my right hon. Friend please say whether any machinery exists which would permit the discussion of this matter by a Welsh Grand Committee?

Mr. Butler

It is rather a technical point, but one of great importance for the area. I will certainly look into it.

Mr. S. Silverman

On the business for next Tuesday and Wednesday, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the highly complicated and technical Homicide Bill was in the hands of hon. Members as long ago as ten days, and that it is nearly a week since the Second Reading was debated? Could he explain why the Committee stage has been so long delayed? Furthermore, during the Committee stage, at any rate so far as it relates to Part II of the Bill, will there be a free vote of the House?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. This is a Government Bill, and it will be carried through according to the usual procedure which surrounds the Measures for which the Government take responsibility.

With regard to the date of the beginning of the Committee stage, the hon. Member is so lucid on these matters that whatever date we had brought it forward he would have been equally intelligent.

Mr. Benn

On a point of order. I wish to ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, about the situation which developed a few minutes ago over Questions which, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, are of the highest importance and which were put to the Government spokesman from the Opposition Front Bench. On each occasion, although his Answer began, "I have been asked to reply", in no case did the Lord Privy Seal associate himself with that reply. In each case he quoted the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary.

This raises the question of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, Sir, a point which frequently causes difficulties for hon. Members who try to table Questions. We understand that it is always open to Departments to transfer Questions one from another, or Ministers to do so one from another, simply and solely because they all accept complete responsibility for what the Government do. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, if the Lord Privy Seal precedes his Answer by saying, "I have been asked to reply", surely he should associate himself with the Answer, which in this case he clearly did not do.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that there is a point of order in that. The transference of Questions from one Minister to another is customary because Ministers know better than I, or the learned Clerks, what are their exact spheres of responsibilities. An hon. Member may well put down in good faith a Question to one Minister which really comes under the Departmental duties of another.

As regards what has occurred today, it is in order for any member of the Government to answer for all the members of the Government. When a Question stands on the Order Paper to be asked of one Minister it has always been the courteous custom for the Minister who is answering in place of the one named on the Order Paper to preface the reply with the words, "I have been asked to reply".

Mr. Butler

May I say, Mr. Speaker, that it has been brought to my attention that a certain degree of modesty in my present position would be wise? Therefore, for me to follow the normal constitutional practice, when I am answering for the Prime Minister, is an indication that we all hope to see the Prime Minister back again shortly. During his absence I hope that the House will accept it from me that the only words I use are those of the responsibility of a collective and united Government.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order, order. We seem to have passed from business altogether.