HC Deb 12 June 1958 vol 589 cc411-6
Mr. J. Griffiths

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, 16TH JUNE—Report and Third Reading of the Opencast Coal Bill.

TUESDAY, 17TH JUNE and WEDNESDAY, 18TH JUNE—We shall make further progress in Committee with the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY, 19TH JUNE—Supply [16th Allotted Day]: Committee.

Debate on Shipping and Shipbuilding.

FRIDAY, 20TH JUNE—Consideration of Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Bowles

Will the right hon. Gentleman give serious consideration to the view which is held by many hon. Members that the Committee stage of the Finance Bill should, in future, be taken upstairs in Standing Committee? The Government, as he knows perfectly well, are always able, and will be able later this afternoon, to refuse debates to hon. Members on other subjects, debates which they, and perhaps other Members of Parliament, regard as very important.

Mr. Butler

That would be a major change in our procedure. It has always been traditional for the Finance Bill, largely for the benefit of hon. Members, to be taken on the Floor. However, this is the sort of question which ought to be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure, which is now sitting. That would be the right place to ventilate such an idea.

Sir F. Medlicott

Can my right hon. Friend say how soon he anticipates it may be possible to find time to debate the Report of the Committee on Bankruptcy Law Amendment?

Mr. Butler

There are many candidates for debate, and I shall certainly see that that one takes its place in the queue.

Mr. Shinwell

Reverting to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) on the subject of procedure, would not the Leader of the House agree, having regard to all the considerations involved—the waste of time of the House, the nonattendance of Members during debates, and the like—that the time has come for a major change in the procedure of the House? Does he not think that it would be to the advantage of the House and of democracy in general if we used the House more as a sounding board to illuminate the minds of the public on important topics, rather than have discussions, as I ventured to say the other day in an Adjournment debate, on such things as cosmetics, babies' dusting powder, babies' nappies and ladies' unmentionables?

Mr. Butler

Those are all matters of a certain importance and I am sure that we should not underestimate their relevance to public affairs. At the same time, as Leader of the House, I would certainly hope that the Select Committee on Procedure, which we have deliberately set up, will turn its mind to these issues and to the interest obviously exhibited in them by hon. Members. I have not yet given evidence to that Committee. I am in process of doing my best to furnish my mind on what I believe to be the general wishes of the House, consonant with the age in which we live.

Mr. Donnelly

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the prospect of having a debate on the Wolfenden Report? Has he made any further progress in considering whether to have a debate before the end of July?

Mr. Butler

I had better not make any observation on that at the moment, because the subject is the second Order for discussion tomorrow. Whether it will be reached, I cannot say, but it is on the Order Paper as the second Order. Apart from that, it is always open to the Opposition to choose a Supply Day. I certainly think that an estimation of public opinion, as reflected in this House, would be of value.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Is it not the tradition of this House that when we consider such Reports it is the duty of the Government to provide time for debate?

Mr. Hyde

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if he would provide a day for the consideration of this Report I should be very pleased to withdraw my Motion, which has been put down for tomorrow?

[To call attention to the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexuality and Prostitution; and to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution.]

Mr. H. Morrison

Can the right hon. Gentleman say now when he will be able to provide time for the debate which was promised for after the Whitsun Recess on the Report of the Committee of Privileges?

Mr. Butler

I rather expected that that important question would be asked. I had intended to have a preliminary conversation with the Leader of the Opposition as to which day would be convenient, but as he is away today and I gathered that I could not see him before the end of the week, and certainly not before I announced the business for next week, I postponed consideration of a day when a Motion might be tabled.

There is a case for a Motion to refer the matter back to the Committee of Privileges. If the right hon. Gentleman wished to discuss it with me I should like to make arrangements by which we would have only one debate on the matter, as it would be rather difficult to find time for two days before we adjourn. As this is not only a matter for the Leader of the House and the Opposition, but also for private Members, I will be at the service of private Members if they wish to make representations to me.

Sir G. Nicholson

With reference to the debate on a Motion concerning the privileges of the House, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that he will be moving a Motion not as a member of the Government, but as Leader of the House? In view of that, will he undertake that the Whips will not be on, but that there shall be a free vote?

Mr. Butler

On the question of referring back to the Committee of Privileges, my hon. Friend might not feel that that is a matter which raises such violent principle as what would happen if we were considering the actual question of any sanction to be taken in any such matter. If it is just a procedural matter I think it more than likely that it will be treated as an ordinary Motion which is officially supported by the Government.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Before the Recess the Leader of the House undertook to look into the question of having an early debate on the question of vehicle testing. Does he appreciate that it is desirable to have a debate before the regulations are laid, as once they are laid they cannot be amended, and that the Opposition wish to make their views known about testing being done by private garages which may be interested parties?

Mr. Butler

I had better see what the period for laying the regulations is, so that there shall be no short circuiting of the matter, before I reply to the hon. Member.

Mr. Ede

There is notice of a Prayer on the Order Paper dealing with the amalgamation of the police forces of Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire. Rumour has reached me that it was proposed to take that Prayer on Monday. Whenever it is to be taken, may we take it that arrangements will be made for the debate to start comparatively early in the evening?

Mr. Butler

We are at present discussing this matter through the usual channels. It does not look quite so likely as it did that the Prayer will come on on Monday. It may be after that, in which case I will inform the right hon. Member.

Mr. H. Morrison

Further to the question of the debate on privileges, speaking purely for myself, I see no objection to seeking to take the two points on one day. But is it not a fact that Reports of the Committee of Privileges are normally debated with the Whips off? If I may say so, I am very much surprised to hear that the Leader of the House is proposing to put the Whips on in the debate on the point of substance about this Report. May I therefore ask whether, in accordance with practice, he will take the Whips off?

Mr. Butler

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not apprehend what I said or intended to say, which was that if it was a procedural question of referring the matter to the Committee of Privileges I thought it would be legitimate to treat that as an ordinary Motion with ordinary Government support. If it were the Report of the Committee of Privileges itself, the main issue, it would be wiser to take it as an ordinary open question and Members be allowed to vote as they liked.

Sir G. Nicholson

I cannot see the distinction between Government action on what my right hon. Friend calls a procedural Motion and on the other sort of Motion with regard to the Committee of Privileges. Surely, in all matters concerning the Committee of Privileges, my right hon. Friend is acting as the Leader of the House and not as a member of the Government. I would ask him to think again on that point.

Mr. Butler

It may not be necessary to have a debate, if we are asking the Committee of Privileges to look at this matter in the light of its Report. I rather wish to get agreement with the Leader of the Opposition that that matter should be formal. Then we could have our main debate when the matter came back again. Thereby we could have two discussions which were in no way inhibited. On the second occasion the House would, I think, wish to have as free a vote as possible.

Mr. Grey

In view of the fact that there is a Motion on the Order Paper on opencast mining, signed by a number of my hon. Friends and myself, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it would be much better to take a debate on that Motion before proceeding with the Opencast Coal Bill?

[That this House, bearing in mind the likelihood that some collieries may be closed, either because of exhaustion of seams or high stocks of coal, that redundancy will result, and that this process will create a considerable recruiting problem when a policy of national expansion is resumed, calls upon H.M. Government to issue a direction to the National Coal Board to reduce the output of opencast coal until the demand for coal supplies increases to the point when additional supplies of opencast coal are required.]

Mr. Butler

I was aware of the hon. Member's Motion, but we cannot put off further consideration of the later stages of the Bill.

Mr. S. Silverman

May I refer the Leader of the House for a moment to the matter of the Committee of Privileges? Is it not correct that the Report from the Committee of Privileges was really incomplete in that it left one question open and the House decided to refer it for a judicial opinion? Now that the judicial opinion has been received, there is no question of substance to be discussed by the House until the Committee of Privileges has made a complete Report.

Mr. Butler

I am obliged to the House for the interchanges that we have had. They may make it possible for me to put a Motion on the Order Paper early next week, referring this matter back to the Committee of Privileges. We could take that Motion formally and await the final conclusion of the Report of the Committee of Privileges for our debate. That would save time and give us a much better opportunity for discussion.