HC Deb 28 March 1957 vol 567 cc1350-5
Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state 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, 1ST APRIL— Debate on the Bermuda Talks, which will take place on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

TUESDAY, 2ND APRIL— Report and Third Reading of the Cinematograph Films Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY, 3RD APRIL and THURSDAY, 4TH APRIL— Report and Third Reading of the Electricity Bill.

FRIDAY, 5TH APRIL— Consideration of Private Members' Motions.

Mr. Gaitskell

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that the Prime Minister announced that the White Paper giving the full information on the Bermuda talks would not be published until tomorrow. As tomorrow is Friday, would he not agree that that is giving us very little notice before the debate takes place? Would he consider whether it is possible to readjust the business and have the debate a little later next week?

Could the right hon. Gentleman also say when the Defence White Paper will be published? This is also relevant to the Bermuda Conference, and the fact that it has not been published is another argument for deferring the debate for a day or two. Finally, can he say when the White Paper on the atomic energy programme is to be published?

Mr. Butler

I have no information to give about the White Paper on atomic energy. The White Paper on Defence will be published next week; I cannot give a definite date, but it will be published next week.

I cannot give an undertaking to put off the debate on the Bermuda talks. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that most of the information in the communiqués which will be in the White Paper has already appeared in the Press. The Opposition will, therefore, have had before them much of the information which they will have in the White Paper.

Mr. Peart

Why is there delay over the publication of the White Paper on atomic energy? The programme was announced some time ago. Surely there should be no difficulty in getting out a detailed White Paper?

Mr. Butler

I have said that I cannot give an exact date, and that is the truth.

Mr. J. Hynd

Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House have given assurances that they will make available to hon. Members as soon as possible an English version of the Treaties of Euratom and the Common Market. May we be told now when and in what form they will be made available?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. I will consult my right hon. Friends particularly concerned and inform the hon. Member.

Mr. Bellenger

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether we shall have the Service Estimates in full before the introduction of the Budget?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir.

Mr. Bellenger

Would the right hon. Gentleman elaborate that a little more? If the Defence White Paper is settled, surely the Estimates of the Service Departments should be before the House before we vote on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposals on 9th April.

Mr. Butler

The Chancellor of the Exchequer will, as usual, present Budget estimates both on the debit and credit side, giving the total figures, and there will be published before he rises to open his Budget the Defence White Paper itself. What I have said before, and say again, is that the debates on the main Service Estimates will have to take place this year after the Budget. I cannot guarantee that the details will be available before the Budget.

Mr. D. Jones

As, in answer to Question No. 19 this afternoon, the President of the Board of Trade said that it was not now thought desirable by the Government to bring forward the legislation referring to hire-purchase and hiring agreements, and having regard to the fact that in July, 1955, the then Minister of Labour said that a railways Bill to implement the Gowers Report was only awaiting Parliamentary time, will the right hon Gentleman now use the time saved on the legislation mentioned in Question No. 19 to introduce this Bill?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. I do not see any chance of introducing a Bill dealing with the Gowers Report on the conditions of employment in the railways during the course of this Session.

Mr. Morris

Will the Leader of the House say when he is likely to convey to us the Government's views on the special Report of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire? Will he give us an assurance that he will not keep us waiting seven months, as he did in respect of the Report on Government Action in Wales?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. I will certainly do my best and will consult my right hon. Friend who is interested in Wales. I have just had a message from the Minister of Power that he proposes to add to the White Paper on investment in the fuel and power industries, which he will be presenting shortly in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Scotland, the information on the nuclear energy programme to which reference was made in a previous question.

Mr. V. Yates

May I call to the attention of the Leader of the House the procedure followed in the last two years in connection with the White Paper on Defence? The White Paper was debated for two days in the House not less than 18 days prior to the Budget, apart from the general Army Estimates. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that the defence debate cannot take place this year until after the Budget? If so, is not this a very serious change in relation to the rights of Members to question not only the Estimates but also the White Paper on Defence?

Mr. Butler

There is obviously a change this year and it is that there is a notable White Paper which is about to be produced on defence which follows upon a change in Government and, consequently, a change in policy. The White Paper has, therefore, not been produced so expeditiously and, as I have confessed to the House, the arrangements are not as convenient to hon. Members as they have been before. When they read the results, however, I think that they will be well satisfied.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Is the right hon. Gentleman asking us to understand that the Government are making a fundamental change in policy? When the new Government came into being we were told that it was a continuation of the old Government and of the old policy. Are we now to understand that the Government claim the right to change their policy without reference to the country?

Mr. Butler

When the Government assumed office I said that they would naturally continue their duty to defend the interests of the country, but they are perfectly at liberty to publish a White Paper, after the new Government and the new Minister of Defence have had an opportunity, together with their allies, of examining this very complicated matter.

Mr. H. Wilson

Will the right hon. Gentleman stop trying to mislead the country about this and make it quite clear that, so far from this Government being a change of Government, right hon. Gentlemen opposite bear the full responsibility for everything that has happened over the last year, indeed the last six years? Will he also tell the House how he thinks it is possible to have an adequate Budget debate starting 9th April when we have not previously, contrary to the practice in all previous years, debated both the White Paper on Defence and the Estimates?

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that he is calling on us to debate the Budget only a very short time after the publication of the Economic Survey instead of after the delay which we had last year? In all those circumstances, will he now suggest to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he postpone the Budget for a few days so that we can debate the White Paper on Defence first, in view of the fact that, like last year's Budget, it will probably be out of date almost before it is issued, anyway?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. We propose to go ahead with the opening of the Budget on the day suggested. We propose to publish the White Paper on the day I named last week, namely, 3rd April. We regret that there has not been more time to consider the White Paper on Defence. I have already acknowledged this to the House. But we think that the picture given by the White Paper will be sufficient for the right hon. Gentleman and others who are taking part in the debate to have a perfectly adequate picture when they debate the Budget and all its consequences.

Mr. Lewis

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House announced in next week's business the Report stage and Third Reading of the Electricity Bill. Has his attention been drawn to the statement made that the Minister of Power attended a committee upstairs of Tories, where he was alleged to have said that to quell a revolt on the part of some backbench Tories he would introduce certain Amendments on Report?

In view of similar happenings in the past, particularly over the notorious Clause 10 of the Rent Bill, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that Ministers will not go to private meetings of the Tory Party— [Laughter]— when a Bill is being debated on the Floor of the House and in Committee, thus abrogating the rights of Members of Parliament? The Labour Government never did and never would do such a thing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) repeatedly refused to give any information to committees while the Bill was being debated on the Floor of the House.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether, instead of laughing, he does not realise that this is a serious matter? Are we to take it that he will not uphold the rights of Members of Parliament and see that the business is discussed on the Floor of the House and not in private committee?

Mr. Butler

In our experience we have usually found that private meetings of the party opposite are more accurately reported than private meetings of the Conservative Party. Furthermore, I am certainly ready to say that I am the guardian of the interests of Members and I shall try to continue to be, but, equally, if a party cannot discuss its own affairs with its own leaders, we shall have no Parliamentary democracy at all.

Mr. V. Yates

Further to my earlier question, the Leader of the House has said that the Army Estimates, but not the White Paper on Defence, will be discussed in a special debate after the Budget. Do I understand that all our questions on the White Paper on Defence must be discussed at the time of the Budget, or, following the custom of the House for several years, shall we have a separate debate on the Defence White Paper after the Budget?

Mr. Butler

If the Opposition so desire, and if hon. Members make a request, we can organise a debate on the Defence White Paper separately from the other issues which have been raised.

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