HC Deb 27 November 1958 vol 596 cc557-62
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 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the New Towns Bill and Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

TUESDAY, 2ND DECEMBER —Debate on Commonwealth and International Economic Problems, on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

It is intended on this occasion that we should deal with the Montreal and Delhi Conferences, in particular.

WEDNESDAY, 3RD DECEMBER—Motion to approve the Coal Industry Nationalisation (Borrowing Powers) Order.

THURSDAY, 4TH DECEMBER—Debate on Foreign Affairs, particularly on European political problems, on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY, 5TH DECEMBER—Consideration of private Members' Motions.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I take it that as the debate on Thursday is to be on the Motion for the Adjournment, it will be open to raise any subject? is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we should wish, in addition to discussing the situation in Berlin and the general problem of European security, also to raise the subject of the Geneva negotiations on the suspension of nuclear tests?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir; I will draw that to the attention of my right hon. Friend principally concerned.

Mr. Bellenger

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed a report in the Manchester Guardian today which seems to show that that newspaper had some prior knowledge of the business for next week, or, at least, of the business on one day next week?

I am not making any complaint about that, but the question I have to ask the right hon. Gentleman is this: for the convenience of most hon. Members, especially those who wish to prepare themselves for future debates, would it not be possible to give the House longer than a week's notice about forthcoming business?

Mr. Butler

As is well known, a large part of the business is, under our constitution, due for discussion with the Opposition. I do not think that it would be possible, normally, to give more than a week's notice. I cannot myself explain why there has been any leak or misunderstanding about the business for next week. These things are discussed confidentially, and they are agreed between the usual channels. I think that it will be very difficult to meet the right hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Bellenger

May I just put this point of view to the right hon. Gentleman? He must know that business for longer than a week ahead is considered in the office of the Patronage Secretary. Would it not be possible to discuss the matter through the usual channels, and, if the main outline of business is agreed, to let hon. Members know a little more than a week in advance?

Mr. Butler

This particular case is an example of how the business can be settled only almost at the last minute, very often on the Thursday morning, the reason being that we try to keep our topics right up to date. If they are not up to date, or not suitable for discussion, we very often postpone them for a week. Therefore, to follow the right hon. Gentleman's wishes might very often lead to misunderstanding.

Mr. Grimond

May I ask whether it is intended that any part of Tuesday's or Thursday's debates will deal with the European Free Trade Area? If not, is there to be a separate debate on that later?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. As I said, the debate on Thursday will, I think, essentially be on European political problems, with the addition which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has just mentioned. The object on Tuesday is to respond to a request which has been made, very naturally, for a full report on the Montreal and Delhi Conferences and their consequences. I do not think that the Free Trade Area would normally come in on either day.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

May I reinforce the plea made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that there is a widespread opinion in the country, as well as among certain hon. Members, that the procedure of the House would, to some extent, be facilitated if longer notice could be given? Without committing himself in any way today, will my right hon. Friend agree to give consideration to the possibility of making an experiment in this matter next Session?

Mr. Butler

The experiment need not necessarily be in the next Session, if it would work. I should, however, have to discuss this idea through the usual channels, and also, of course, with hon. Members concerned. Sometimes there is a calculated indiscretion, by which it is indicated that, at a future date, a debate will take place on a certain subject. We might be able to enlarge and codify such a practice.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the debate next Wednesday, on borrowing powers for the coal industry, be restricted to the financial aspects associated with borrowing powers, or will it be a general debate, enabling hon. Members to deal in general with the state of the coal industry?

Mr. Butler

I have here the Order, and the debate will be on that Order. The extent to which the debate can range must be a matter for Mr. Speaker and the Chair.

Mr. Osborne

Further to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), the Leader of the Liberal Party, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether, in view of the fact that the European Free Trade Area proposals are of such importance to many industries, he will find time for a debate, if we cannot have it next week, during the following week, or, at least, give us an opportunity to discuss the matter before Christmas?

Mr. Butler

I think that it depends entirely on how the negotiations develop. At present, I do not think that the matter is ripe for a useful discussion. It depends entirely on developments.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while we have pressed very strongly for a debate on the Free Trade Area, as he knows, we are all very anxious to have a White Paper before the debate can take place, and are as conscious as he is that there are important meetings to take place in Europe, actually next Tuesday, which would make it very difficult for the Paymaster-General to say anything very constructive at this time? Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account what the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) has said and let us have a debate as soon as it can be fixed, provided that we can all have the necessary information first?

Mr. Butler

Yes. It was partly because of the difficulty of laying a White Paper and giving the information, owing to the state of negotiations, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) and his hon. Friends were in agreement that the time was not ripe for a debate, Of course, when the time is ripe for a debate, we can certainly make the arrangements

Mr. Hector Hughes

Further to the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) about the length of notice of business, will the Leader of the House bear in mind that Members have duties in their constituencies and elsewhere which cannot always be adequately performed, nor can appointments be made, unless they receive more than a week's notice?

Mr. Butler

I must say that we have all managed to keep going in our constituencies and elsewhere, under the present arrangements, for a very long time, and I do not think we must be too worried about the future. I have undertaken to consider the request made to me, but I cannot guarantee that there will be any result.

Mr. F. Noel-Baker

In view of the interest evidently felt in all parts of the House in the subject which we started to debate last Friday and the deep anxiety felt outside the House on the matter of advertising, and of the fact that your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, was that the subject was inadequately debated on that day, may I ask the Leader of the House when he will provide Government time to continue the discussion of my Motion?

Mr. Butler

The answer, in short, is "No, Sir". I should like to say that we at least had the satisfaction of having adequate time to understand the hon. Member's point of view.

Mr. Noel-Baker

With great respect, may I point out to the Leader of the House that the answer to the question. "When?" cannot be "No, Sir"?

Mr. Biggs-Davison

May I ask a question about Tuesday's business? Without wishing to press the Government for a premature statement on the Free Trade Area, and since the subject is connected with the Commonwealth and is an international economic problem, may I ask the Leader of the House whether it will be in order for back bench Members who are lucky enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye to refer to the Free Trade Area?

Mr. Butler

I am quite certain that on a subject like this, which relates chiefly to the very comprehensive reports from Montreal and Delhi, any matter referring to the expansion of trade would certainly be of interest, but I do not think that it would be profitable for the House to consider the immediate impact of the negotiations or the future of a Free Trade Area for Europe alone. The general expansion of trade would be quite reasonable.

Mr. Mellish

Is the Leader of the House aware that on Monday last we had a debate on the Grigg Report to which a reply was to be given by the Minister of Defence? In fact, the right hon. Gentleman left the Chamber at half-past five and did not return until ten to nine, and, not having heard the debate, he then replied to it. Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that in the business for next week and the weeks to come the House will not be treated with such arrogance and that we shall have a little more courtesy from the Front Bench?

Mr. Butler

I should not like to attribute arrogance to any of my colleagues, but their degree of perception, perhaps, is greater than the hon. Member realises.

Mr. Short

Will the right hon. Gentleman say when we can expect the White Paper on education and whether we shall have an opportunity to debate it before the Christmas Recess?

Mr. Butler

I cannot give a definite answer about a debate, but I can say that it is hoped that the White Paper will be laid some time next week.