HC Deb 10 July 1958 vol 591 cc583-8
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, 14TH JULY—Debate on a Motion to take note of the Report from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries relating to the National Coal Board and the Report and Accounts of the Board for 1957.

TUESDAY, 15TH JULY—Report stage of the Finance Bill.

Committee stage of the Army and Air Expenditure, 1956–57.

WEDNESDAY, 16TH JULY—Conclusion of the Report stage of the Finance Bill.

Committee and remaining stages of the Chequers Estate Bill, and of the State of Singapore Bill.

Report stage of the Army and Air Expenditure, 1956–57.

THURSDAY, 17TH JULY—Supply [22nd Allotted Day]: Committee, which it is proposed to take formally.

A debate will take place on a Motion to take note of the Report and Accounts of the British Transport Commission for 1957.

Consideration of the Motions to approve the Draft Calf Subsidies Schemes.

FRIDAY, 18TH JULY—Third Reading of the Finance Bill.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the House will have an opportunity to consider the very serious consequences which result from the decision of the House on Tuesday night in rejecting the recommendation of the Committee of Privileges? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the very great concern which this decision causes to Members as to how they can discharge their Parliamentary duties? What is his intention about the whole question generally?

Mr. Butler

I ventured to give the House certain advice and the House came to a certain conclusion. I think that we all have to accept the conclusion of the House in the right spirit, but that means that we also have to consider the difficulties under which hon. Members are labouring. I therefore ask hon. Members to give a little time to considering this matter.

I have already had several consultations and I have had many visits from hon. Members informing me of the anxieties which they have. I think that to rush into any decision would be a mistake. If may, Mr. Speaker, I should like to have an opportunity of waiting upon you and discussing the matter from the point of the House as a whole. When I have done that I might be able to give some advice.

Mr. H. Fraser

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is possible, before we go into Recess, to have a debate on the plight of those whose property has been expropriated in Egypt and on what action the Government propose to take?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend raised this matter during the past week and I made a note of his wishes, which, I think, are shared by other hon. Members. If we can in any way find an opportunity for this, especially when we have something to report, I think that we should pay attention to what he said.

Mr. Ross

Reverting to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), will the Lord Privy Seal bear in mind that for over two months of Recess the only access that we shall have to Ministers is by letter?

Mr. Butler

I think it is possible that such a form of communication may be made without eventually damaging Members, but this is the sort of matter on which it may be possible to say more before the Recess. At any rate, we shall certainly be available—I, at any rate, will be available—to give the best possible advice we can to hon. Members in good time.

Dame Irene Ward

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the Motion standing on the Order Paper in my name? If he cannot find time for the House to debate that Motion, can he give an assurance that before long there will be a public inquiry into the controversy which has arisen over the Carl Rosa Opera Company?

[That, in the opinion of this House, an independent inquiry should be held into the operations of the Carl Rosa Trust, as suggested in responsible quarters in the Press, and welcomed by the regular attenders and remaining members of the Trust, in view of the fact that, if the company were to extend its proposed autumn tour to February, as was suggested, the future Arts Council grant would have to be mortgaged and the company would be off the road from then until October, 1959; that Equity has submitted a substantial claim to the Trust for increased salaries for the chorus, to bring the year's earnings up to the level of 1957; that the present Arts Council grant is not sufficient to meet this demand; and that the whole future of the Carl Rosa may be jeopardised by the refusal of the Arts Council to continue its subsidy in spite of public money having been used to purchase the company.]

Mr. Butler

I cannot guarantee that without discussing the matter with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I will do so and refer to my hon. Friend.

Dame Irene Ward

Thank you.

Mr. S. Silverman

Reverting again to the decision taken by the House the other night, while fully appreciating what the right hon. Gentleman has said about avoiding the temptation to rush into action which might not be the right action, may I ask whether he will nevertheless bear in mind, in considering the matter, that it is extremely doubtful whether hon. Members have any other protection, any qualified privilege of any kind, in a court outside, and that if they are to be deprived of the protection which they hitherto thought they had, they may be left with no protection at all?

Mr. Butler

I do not think that hon. Members or the House as a whole need feel that the position has deteriorated from what it was before. It has altered in one important respect—namely, that the House has taken a decision not to regard a certain case as "a proceeding in Parliament". I must warn hon. Members that a precedent has been established to that extent, but this exactly corresponds with the warning which I gave the House in my speech, that if it took other action a precedent would be established on the other side. That is the only change. The reservation which one must make on that observation is that that conclusion of the House related only to a particular matter. I do not think that in the general issue hon. Members are in more danger than they were before.

Mr. Gaitskell

Will the right hon. Gentleman nevertheless bear in mind that, as was shown in the evidence before the Committee of Privileges, it has been the custom for the Table to refuse Questions on day-to-day matters relating to the nationalised industries and to propose to hon. Members that they should write to the chairman of the board or the Minister concerned? The decision of the House clearly makes that situation untenable. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in his evidence to the Committee the Clerk made it plain that if letters of this kind were not privileged the Table could not continue to give that advice? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore take up this as one of the matters on which he will consult Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Butler

I understand that the Table and, I believe, you, Mr. Speaker, have already apprehended the undoubted danger to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, and I understand that the Table is considering modifying its advice to Members on this matter; but I suggest that it should be one of the matters which I discuss with you, Sir, and then we can give an authoritative answer, perhaps through you, or as you may prefer, to the House.

Mr. Deedes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that for some weeks there has been on the Order Paper a Motion signed by 148 hon. Members in respect of compensation for the acquisition of land? Is he further aware that this Motion reflects not only the view of nearly half the hon. Members on this side of the House, but also a very considerable degree of anxiety on this subject? Can he offer any hope of a discussion about it?

[That this House deplores the injustices inherent in the existing law governing compensation for land acquired under compulsory powers and urges Her Majesty's Government to accept the principle of fair market value either by granting facilities on the floor of the House for the remaining stages of the Compensation (Acquisition and Planning) Bill or by introducing alternative legislation during the lifetime of the present Parliament to achieve a similar purpose.]

Mr. Butler

I am fully aware of the weight of support for this Motion and for the issues and principles involved in it. If it were dealt with thoroughly the matter would involve legislation, and the one thing which is quite certain is that we cannot put in any more legislation this summer. Since there would have to be legislation, I cannot give an undertaking about next Session. It would have to follow in the next Session. I think that my hon. Friend should feel satisfied that the Government are aware of the strength of the feeling and of the importance of this issue. If he were to accept that, it might give him some satisfaction.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that each day that we delay dealing with this problem more injustice is done? Will he bear in mind that the matter is urgent?

Mr. Butler

Certainly, but I do not think that any legislative programme has ever been fuller than that which we have at present. We cannot perform at one moment all the beneficent acts which are to the credit of this Government. We will perhaps keep this one for a little later.