HC Deb 21 March 1957 vol 567 cc553-8
Mr. Gaitskell

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

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)

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

MONDAY, 25TH MARCH—Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill.

Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

TUESDAY, 26TH MARCH and WEDNESDAY, 27TH MARCH—Report stage of the Rent Bill. [1st and 2nd Allotted Days.]

THURSDAY, 28TH MARCH—Third Reading of the Rent Bill. [3rd Allotted Day.]

FRIDAY, 29TH MARCH—Consideration of Private Members' Bills.

At the end of the business today, we shall ask the House to approve the Report of the Business Committee on the remaining stages of the Rent Bill.

Mr. Gaitskell

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Defence White Paper will be published in the course of next week? Also, when may we expect publication of the Economic Survey and Balance of Payments White Paper?

Mr. Butler

I could not give an undertaking about the Defence White Paper, whether it will actually be published next week, but it will be published without undue delay. I will consult my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and let the right hon. Gentleman and the House have the date of publication of the Economic Survey and the Balance of Payments White Paper.

Mr. Gaitskell

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that a promise was given that the Defence White Paper would be published before the end of March, and that if it is not published before the 29th that promise will not have been fulfilled. We are, naturally, anxious that the Economic White Papers should be published several days in advance of the Budget.

Mr. Butler

I hope that it will be possible to publish the Economic Survey a week before the Budget, that is, on 2nd April. I was not giving a final date, because I was not certain. I hope that the Balance of Payments Paper will be published on the 3rd, that is, next day. The White Paper on National Income and Expenditure will be published later the same week. They will all be before the Budget.

I realise that a statement was made hoping that the Defence White Paper would be published before the end of the month. The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct. There has been a certain amount of delay about it. There is no mystery about the delay; the White Papers could not be published quite so quickly as we had hoped.

Mr. G. Brown

Would the right hon. Gentleman take us into his confidence a little further? We were not only told that it would be published, but that it would be published before the end of the month. What is meant by "not quite so quickly as we had hoped"? I understand that it is already in its fifteenth draft. Is it not time that the Government came to a conclusion about this?

Mr. Butler

If the right hon. Gentleman has seen the fifteenth draft of the White Paper I hope that he will show it to me later, because I should be glad to see it.

Mr. Bellenger

Does not the Lord Privy Seal realise that the House has not yet had the Service Estimates before it in precise form? Until this White Paper is before us I presume that the Service Estimates will be delayed. We are approaching the period of the Budget and the Finance Bill to follow it. What does the right hon. Gentleman propose is to be the procedure now in presenting the Service Estimates to the House?

Mr. Butler

We intend that the main Service Estimates shall be properly discussed by the House and they will be published with that in view. That was indicated to the hon. Member for Lady-wood (Mr. V. Yates) when the Prime Minister spoke on this subject on 7th March. We are a little later than we had anticipated in the publication of these documents, but when they are published it will be seen that all the trouble will have been well worth while.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Is it not time we had a further debate on the European Free Trade Area? Is it not increasingly clear, from all the Answers to Questions on this subject, that since the new proposal to bring in the overseas territories of France and Belgium the Government do not know where they are? Is it not possible that they might get some guidance from the House?

Mr. Butler

The Government know perfectly well where they are. They are here and intend to remain here. The position about the Free Trade Area is that we have noted that the Messina countries have made this addition of overseas territories, including the Belgian Congo. That raises a major consideration in relation to the whole project. I am not able to state a time for a debate, but I have registered the opinion of various sides of the House about this project and I have already discussed it with my right hon. Friends the President of the Board of Trade and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I can only accept the request of the hon. Member, but I cannot give an undertaking at present about a debate.

Mr. H. Wilson

While supporting the request of my hon. Friend, which has been pressed repeatedly, may I take the Lord Privy Seal back to the question of the relationship between the Defence White Paper, the defence debate and the Budget? If the Defence White Paper—which, obviously, is the result of an incredible muddle on the part of the Government—is to continue to be delayed, how does the right hon. Gentleman think that we can adequately debate the Budget, with its changes in taxation and expenditure, when the House has not had the opportunity of debating the biggest single element in Government expenditure for the raising of which we shall be listening to the Budget proposals?

If the House has no opportunity of saying either that the expenditure is excessive, that it is right, or that it is not enough, how can we make an intelligent approach to the Budget, on behalf of the House as a whole, when we shall be debating tax changes of perhaps £½ million, £1 million or £5 million and there is the amount which the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations called £1,500 million, which we have not yet debated?

Mr. Butler

The first thing is to publish the Defence White Paper. From it will emerge the nature of the defence plans on which hon. Members can form their opinions. The Prime Minister said on 7th March: There will be the debate on the full Army Estimates later in the year, for which, I should imagine, our ordinary procedure would apply." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1957; Vol. 566, c. 540.] I understand that we can make agreements with the Opposition, through the usual channels, to see that there is an opportunity for full discussion of the main Estimates. I make the offer to the Leader of the Opposition so that there can be an opportunity for full discussion.

Mr. Gaitskell

I appreciate what the Lord Privy Seal has said, but he does not quite understand our point. What my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) was asking was whether we could have an opportunity of debating the Defence White Paper before the Budget. If we are to have that, it is really urgent that the Defence White Paper should be published next week.

Mr. Butler

That undertaking I cannot give, but I give an undertaking that the Defence White Paper will be published before the Budget.

Mr. Grimond

In view of the changing situation in Cyprus, and the possibility that we may have missed yet another opportunity of settling the problems of the island, do the Government intend to provide time in the near future for a discussion of the Cyprus question?

Mr. Butler

I think that we had better wait and see how the international aspect of this latest initiative works out before coming to a decision on that point.

Mr. J. Hynd

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether, as it is quite clear that we shall have to discuss our association with the Common Market in one form or another, he will make available to hon. Members as a White Paper, or put in the Library of the House, a copy of the treaty which. I understand, has been concluded?

Mr. Butler

I think that all information on this vital subject should be available, because one great advantage of the project up to date has been the general support given to it throughout the country. Everyone realises that unless we take advantage of something of this sort we shall be faced with great competition in future years which will affect all of us and all the workpeople in this country. Therefore, I shall see that any information which is available is made available to hon. Members.

Mr. S. Silverman

Reverting to the publication of the Defence White Paper, will the Lord Privy Seal bear in mind that similar considerations apply to the Economic Survey? Will he bear in mind that in previous years—certainly, in the days of Sir Stafford Cripps—the House used to have the opportunity of a full debate on the Economic Survey before the Budget and that the opportunity of doing that is as valuable and as relevant to our Budget debates as debate on the Defence White Paper? Is there any hope of reverting to that practice?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. I rather think that the practice in recent years has been that we publish the Economic Survey before the Budget and then have a general debate on the Budget which, as the hon. Member knows, occupies a great deal of our time. I think that we would prefer to adhere to that proposal rather than to have a separate debate on economics before the Budget is introduced.

Mr. Fell

I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware that the reception which the industrial Free Trade Area is given by the country will depend very much on what exactly the proposals are. That being so, may we have the earliest possible statement on the details of those proposals and the earliest possible debate on the proposals?

Mr. Butler

I realise that there is a great deal of interest in this matter which, after all, will affect a great many of our industries very intimately, I cannot give an undertaking today about a debate, but I will pass on the observations of my hon. Friend to the Ministers chiefly concerned.

Mr. Donnelly

May I press the point made about Cyprus? The Easter Recess is within the foreseeable future and a lot of time will be taken up by the Budget. Yet the House has a considerable responsibility in this matter. Will the Lord Privy Seal consider whether, during the week after next, there will have been time to form an idea of what has happened about the international representations and for the House to have an opportunity to discuss the question of Cyprus?

Mr. Butler

I will take note of the suggestion of the hon. Member.

Mr. Lipton

Is it absolutely essential to have the Third Reading of the Rent Bill next Thursday immediately following a two-day Report stage? Would it not be advisable, in view of the changes that we hope may be made in the Bill on Report, to give the House and the country an opportunity of considering what we hope may be a very much improved Bill?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. It is our intention to take the Third Reading of the Rent Bill on Thursday, and the sooner we pass it into law the better.

Mr. Lewis

Is the Leader of the House aware that many of his hon. Friends are directors of property companies and are property owners and will make very much money out of the Bill? Will he therefore advise those hon. Friends of his to declare their interest before they vote on the Rent Bill and also say how much money they will make out of the Bill?

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Amory.