HC Deb 22 January 1959 vol 598 cc412-8
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, 26TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Mental Health Bill.

Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

TUESDAY, 27TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the National Insurance Bill.

Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

WEDNESDAY, 28TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the European Monetary Agreement Bill.

Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

THURSDAY, 29TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Street Offences Bill.

FRIDAY, 30TH JANUARY—Consideration of Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Leader of the House aware that, in our opinion, the Mental Health Bill, which is of very great importance, deserves more than one day's discussion on Second Reading? Will he please consider whether it is possible to vary the timetable and give a two-day debate to it, or, failing that, at any rate give some extra time on Monday?

As for the National Insurance Bill, I suppose we must take it that the Government regard it as such a paltry Bill that only one day is necessary for a debate upon it. From our point of view, we feel that a Bill which was intended to introduce a whole new scheme of superannuation requires at least a two-day debate.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, further, on Thursday's business, whether it is the Government's intention that there should be a free vote? Is he aware that, in our opinion, this matter of street offences ought not to be treated on a party basis? He will be aware that there are a number of serious criticisms which have been made of the Street Offences Bill, which, we believe, should be discussed in an impartial and objective manner.

May I ask him, therefore, whether he will agree to a free vote on the subject, which is what we intend to do on this side of the House, on the understanding that if by any chance the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman were to be defeated we would not attach special constitutional importance to that fact?

Mr. Butler

I will take the right hon. Gentleman's points one by one. We all realise that the Mental Health Bill is a very large and very important Bill. In the circumstances, I would propose that we might allow an extra hour for debate, which will, therefore, give more time for the discussion on Monday.

I do not at all accept the statements of the right hon. Gentleman about the National Insurance Bill. The Government deliberately gave time before Christmas for a debate of pensions, and the subject has been more than once debated. We think that there will be sufficient opportunity on this occasion, and the Bill will then follow through its usual stages. But if the Opposition so desire, we are ready to give an extra hour on Tuesday.

On the subject of the Street Offences Bill, I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman, although I quite appreciate the spirit of his remarks. I agree that it is certainly not a party political matter, though it is a very distasteful and difficult one. But this is a Government Bill and we must regard it as such. I quite understand that on the other side the matter is being left to a free vote of hon. Members, but on this side, whether the right hon. Gentleman understands my motives or not, we must regard the Bill as a Government Bill. It seeks to deal with a specific subject, and we shall, therefore, treat it as a Government Measure and follow the usual procedure.

Mr. Gaitskell

Even if it is a Government Measure, would not the right hon. Gentleman adopt a rather more flexible attitude towards it? I repeat that this is not a party issue, and could not be in any circumstances, but it is a fact that this Measure has been criticised, and, from the point of view of the House of Commons on the whole, it is surely desirable that there should be a very full debate and a free vote. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take a more reasonable line? There are precedents for Government Bills being introduced which are not of party significance and on which a free vote has been given. Will he please reconsider the matter?

Mr. Butler

Both I and my colleagues gave a great deal of thought to this matter, and I do not think that it would lead to a clear decision, when dealing with a very disagreeable matter, if we did not treat the Bill as a Government Measure. We therefore propose to do so. I quite understand and value the attitude taken by the Opposition, and I do not doubt that many hon. Members will have their own views on the Bill, but we must regard it as a Government Measure.

Mr. Peyton

Could my right hon. Friend tell the House exactly what argument he used to overcome the anxiety of the Leader of the Opposition to have an immediate economic debate on our return from the Christmas Recess?

Mr. Butler

Our relations with foreign powers continue to be friendly, and it is partly due to this atmosphere, I dare say. The Opposition have agreed that on the Second Reading of the European Monetary Agreement Bill there will be an opportunity for a discussion of such matters as what is known, broadly and loosely, as the convertibility of the £ and other issues, and it is fully expected that on Wednesday there will be an opportunity for a general economic debate. We understand that that was the wish of the Opposition.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I reassure the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) that we asked for a debate as soon as possible. We are always reasonable, and when we were told that we were getting it in the second week after our return we thought that that was all right? May I also ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that, to make quite sure that this debate is sufficiently wide, we propose to table a reasoned Amendment to the Motion put down by the Government?

Mr. Remnant

May I ask my right hon. Friend to think again about the Mental Health Bill, from the point of view that not only does it deal with a very important subject but that the problems of mental hospitals and what are described in the Bill as State institutions raise many different considerations which cannot be properly mixed up one with another? Is he aware that it seems that one hour's extension of the time on Monday is hardly sufficient to cover the problem adequately?

Mr. Butler

I realise the difficulty. I think that we shall have sufficient time for the Second Reading, and I do not think that the most optimistic of us would imagine that the Committee stage would finish quickly. After that, there will be the Report stage on the Floor of the House, and I am fairly certain that there will be ample opportunities for discussing these issues before we have finished with the Bill.

Mr. H. Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the initialling of the Anglo-Egyptian Financial Agreement last week. Since you, Mr. Speaker, refused to allow a Private Notice Question on this matter, and since the Chancellor of the Exchequer today refused to answer an Oral Question on the Order Paper about it, would the Lord Privy Seal give an undertaking that we shall have the fullest details of this agreement, which, from newspaper reports, seems to be rather unusually humiliating, so that we may have a full discussion as soon as possible?

Mr. Butler

I would not accept the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the agreement being humiliating. Leaving that on one side, however, it is obvious that the House of Commons must be possessed of the fullest details of this agreement and that if the House wishes to discuss them it must do so.

Mr. Osborne

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, since Wednesday's business can affect the livelihood and wages of all industrial workers, and since he has given an extra hour for debates on other days, we could have an extra hour on Wednesday so that this very important matter could be fully discussed?

Mr. Butler

We must consider whether the physique of hon. Members will stand so great a strain three days running, but I will pay great attention to the validity of the point raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Will the Leader of the House say when it is proposed that we should have a debate on the Bowes Report on Inland Waterways? The Report was published before the Summer Recess and we are still awaiting the views of the Government and a debate in the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is proposed to publish a White Paper, giving the views of the Government on the recommendations before the debate, or first to take the views of the House into consideration?

Mr. Butler

We have been considering the Bowes Report. I think it may be said that we are beginning to reach a conclusion on this important matter of inland waterways, but I think it would be better to have a White Paper before we have a debate. I do not think that that would be for a week or two, but, if I may, I will let the hon. Member know what sort of timetable there will be. There should be an opportunity for the House to be aware of the kind of attitude that we are adopting.

Mr. J. Hynd

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that just before the Christmas Recess he and the Prime Minister gave a clear assurance to the House, following pressure from both sides, that there would be a White Paper soon and an early opportunity for a debate on the Common Market and Free Trade Area proposals. Since 1st January has now come and gone, can the right hon. Gentleman say when we are to have this opportunity?

Mr. Butler

It is proposed to publish a White Paper as soon as possible. I cannot give the exact date, because the documents are very voluminous and it will take a little time to complete them. But it will be in the near future. The White Paper should form the basis for a discussion if that is desirable.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask whether the Committee stage of the Street Offences Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Butler

No decision has been taken on that matter to date and I should not like to give an answer until we have examined the state of the legislative programme and the issues in the Bill itself.

Mrs. L. Jeger

In view of the serious competition for the time of the House, would it not be helpful to the right hon. Gentleman if his proposals for the misuse of Parliamentary time next Thursday for the consideration of the horrid little monster of a Bill that he has conceived were to be abandoned, and the time used that day for a more constructive and useful Measure?

Mr. Butler

There is a considerable abuse to deal with, namely, the condition of our streets. No one wants to deal with it, but I think that this matter has to be dealt with and that we had better deal with it on Thursday.

Mr. G. Thomas

As the Prime Minister has now replied to the Welsh Advisory Council on its fourth memorandum and the House has not considered Welsh affairs for a long time, can the Leader of the House now say when the Government propose to publish a White Paper on Government activity in Wales and, if so, when we shall consider it?

Mr. Butler

I cannot give a date, but so far as I know things are working out a little more smoothly than might have been expected.

Mr. Lipton

May I ask the Leader of the House whether an early opportunity could be provided in Government time for discussing the value and significance of public opinion polls?

Mr. Butler

The Government note very accurately the opinion of these polls and to date we have been very gratified by them. I do not see any opportunity for an early discussion.

Mr. V. Yates

May I ask the Leader of the House a question I put to him before the Christmas Recess about Questions to the Minister of Labour? As that Minister will not be answering, until 25th February, Ministry of Labour Questions first and, therefore, there will be practically no opportunity of asking Questions about unemployment in various parts of the country until then, cannot something be done to enable those who are not able to take part in debate to put Questions on this matter, which is now vital?

Mr. Butler

We made an adjustment in respect of colonial Questions and we are always ready—by discussion, but not without discussion, through the usual channels—to make adjustments if they are necessary. Perhaps the hon. Member will have some conversation with his right hon. Friends. If the Leader of the Opposition wishes to speak to me about this subject we shall consider it.

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