HC Deb 12 November 1959 vol 613 cc601-9
Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will announce the business for next week?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 16TH NOVEMBER, and TUESDAY, 17TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Betting and Gaming Bill and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

WEDNESDAY, 18TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of Mr. Speaker Morrison's Retirement Bill; and of the Atomic Energy Authority Bill and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

It is hoped that this business can be obtained at such an hour as will allow sufficient time for a debate on the Motion standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition relating to the Garratt v. Eastmond case.

THURSDAY, 19TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Horticulture Bill and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

FRIDAY, 20TH NOVEMBER—Consideration of Private Members' Motions.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is the intention of the Government to allow a free vote on the Second Reading of the Betting and Gaming Bill? Would it not be a suitable occasion for a free vote on both sides of the House? After all, this is not a party issue. A free vote would greatly add to the interest of the proceedings and make the whole situation considerably easier for many hon. Members.

Mr. Butler

We have, naturally, given close consideration to this Measure, but we must regard it as a Government Bill and, therefore, we cannot permit what is technically described as a free vote. I should like to add, however, that it is quite obvious that this Measure is not conceived in political terms and it is also obvious that, if hon. Members have particular views, they will be perfectly entitled to put them. It is in that spirit that I hope we shall approach the matter.

Mr. Gaitskell

Would this not be an opportunity for initiating a little experiment by which the Government, although they are introducing a Government Measure, take the view that it is not one on which defeat or anything of that kind will be regarded as raising a question of confidence? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that should the Government be defeated on an occasion like this we on this side would be perfectly prepared to say that we would not regard it in any way as a matter of confidence? Would it not be in accordance with the general feeling of the House for a greater degree of freedom that an experiment of this kind might be initiated by the Government, with the huge majority which is such an advantage to them?

Mr. Iremonger

On a point of order. May the House have your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as guardian of the conscience of this House, on the meaning of phrases about hon. Members expressing their views and free votes?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the right hon. Gentleman used the phrase "what is called a free vote". I think that that is a matter which is left to the general knowledge of hon. Members. As to "consciences" and "views", they appear to be words in common use.

Mr. P. Williams

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to Motion No. 9 on the Order Paper—

Mr. Speaker

Order. A point of order interrupted between the question of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the answer, whatever it might have been, that was to be given to it by the Leader of the House.

Mr. Butler

Will the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to repeat his question?

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this would be an excellent opportunity for introducing a little experiment into our proceedings by which the Government could introduce a Measure which is a Government Measure, but nevertheless take the view, and state clearly, that this is not a matter they would regard as an issue of confidence, so that there could be a free vote on the Government side as well as on the Opposition side, even though technically it was a Government Measure?

Mr. Butler

Some of us have had some experience of the working of Parliament and I do not doubt that there may be Amendments moved to this Bill in Committee, or on Report or later stages, which the Government might not particularly like, but which they might have to accept. I do not think that it is wise to enter upon a major Government Measure without treating it as a Government Measure. To put it frankly, there may be many technicalities of law and other difficulties in this Bill, on which we have spent a great deal of time, and a chance Amendment might appear to correct it, but might not result in better law. Therefore, let us reserve the power to treat it as a Government Measure.

Mr. P. Williams

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether his attention has been drawn to Motion No. 9 on the Order Paper, in the name of about 50 hon. Members, referring in particular to the possibility of United Kingdom citizens residing overseas being able to vote either here in this country at a General Election, or for the Legislative Council of the Colony in which they happen to be residing at the time?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to examine the possibility that United Kingdom citizens serving or otherwise temporarily residing overseas be enabled to vote either for this House or for the Legislature of the territory concerned.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is one of a number of things in which there is a degree of dissatisfaction with the working of the Representation of the People Act and that now, perhaps, is a suitable moment, with five years of sound government ahead of us, when a review of the working of this Act could well be undertaken?

Mr. Butler

The Home Office is responsible for putting forward measures for electoral reform. This is a suggestion on which, at first sight, as my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, we see certain difficulties. I should like to give the House this undertaking, that we shall look at any suggestions for electoral reform which may come from one side of the House or the other, from one political party or another. We can take a little time over this and, while examining any such proposals, we shall reserve our right to bring forward any constructive proposals in due course.

Mr. Bevan

May I ask a question on the previous question which was raised? Is it not a fact that if, when a Measure is introduced in the House of Commons—and it can only be introduced by the Government except when it is a Private Member's Bill—the right hon. Gentleman will say, "This being a Government Measure, we must, therefore, put the Whips on"? Will that not mean that we shall never have any free discussion in this House? Is it not possible to make a distinction between kinds of Government Measures and to say, "This particular Measure is, we consider, one which the House of Commons should be free to discuss" using the term "freedom" in the accepted sense of the term, thereby providing the House with very much needed refreshment?

Is it not a fact that if the right hon. Gentleman is worried about an Amendment being carried which would produce legal difficulties there will be plenty of stages on the Bill at which that can be corrected, either here or in another place? If we should fault at any given time we can be put right afterwards. Surely the authority of the Government in the matter is sufficient to persuade the House on a technical matter. Ought we not to start this Parliament with a little more elbow room than we have had before and not go through again the stale performances that we have had recently?

Mr. Butler

I think that the right hon. Member is over-simplifying the situation. I am quite certain that there will be ample opportunity on this Bill for private Members to put forward constructive Amendments and ample opportunities for them to express their points of view. It is in this spirit that we are moving, but to say that there should be a free vote on every aspect of it might, I think, lead to great confusion on what is a technical and difficult Bill.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Leader of the House aware that on a previous occasion I asked him about his intentions on the Lord High Commissioner (Scotland) Bill? Has that had anything to do with the formation of the Standing Committee by which 20 Government Members and only 15 Opposition Members have been placed on this Committee? In Scotland, there is a majority against the Government. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that to deal with this situation the hon. Members for Reading (Mr. Emery), Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) and Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr) have been introduced to vote down Scottish Members? Is it his intention always to weight these Standing Committees against Scottish Members?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that that conceivably can be a question for the right hon. Gentleman, the selection being made by the Committee of Selection on behalf of the House.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you give us guidance and say at what point we are to be able to question the Leader of the House on the constitution of these Committees?

Mr. Speaker

As at present advised, I do not think that it is possible for the hon. Member to put that question to the Leader of the House. It is not within his responsibility.

Mr. Manuel

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not true to say that, while the Committee of Selection selects hon. Members, we can take it that its action is endorsed by the Government, because, obviously, if that were not so, the selection would not go through?

Mr. Speaker

Endorsement, I understand, is by this House and not by the Government.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Relating to business, does not the putting down of a Motion of censure on a trumpery police case—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—demonstrate the utter incompetence of the Opposition to address themselves to major national issues?

[That this House regrets the failure of the Secretary of State for the Home Department adequately to explain the payment of £300 out of public money in the case of Garratt v. Eastmond in which the alleged misconduct of a Metropolitan Police officer was involved.]

Would it not be a good thing to recognise this fact now by postponing consideration of this absurd Motion of censure sine die?

Mr. Grimond

May I refer back to the question of the Betting and Gaming Bill? The Home Secretary, with his usual felicity, has described it as a Bill which is not being conceived of in political terms, but does not that imply that there is a distinction in his mind between a certain sort of Bill introduced by the Government in the course of legislation, and a Bill which is not in political terms, but one on which conscience can be expressed? Surely, whatever legal difficulties may arise, they could not arise on the question of adoption or total rejection on Second Reading.

Mr. Butler

It sounds very agreeable to say we should have a free vote, but that makes the conduct of a Bill sometimes very difficult and some of us who have had experience of it are quite convinced that the best way to handle this is to continue to treat this matter in the way we suggest and to conduct it in the spirit which both my right hon. Friend and I have described.

Sir P. Agnew

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that when a Measure somewhat of the same kind as this was introduced, namely, the Measure dealing with opening cinemas on Sundays, the first Bill which was brought in by the Government was on the basis of a free vote? That Bill failed to reach the Statute Book and the Government, in a subsequent Session, had to take up Parliamentary time by introducing a fresh Bill, which was carried with the assistance of the Whips. Therefore, on this occasion, if the Government desire, as I believe the whole House desires, that betting reforms and modernisation should take place, the only really sensible thing to do is not to waste the time of Parliament, but to treat the Measure as a Government Measure from the outset.

Mr. C. Pannell

Does the Leader of the House understand that there is still a good deal of disappointment in all parts of the House that he has not moved to the consideration of accommodation? Is he aware that some of us expected that probably we could discuss this matter next week? Is he aware that some of his hon. Friends have complained to me that they have neither a desk nor a place for a secretary or any desks for them-selves? If he is to proceed in this rather procrastinating manner, would it not be better to ask the Commissioners of the House to consider the Stokes Committee's Report, which had the support of all hon. Members, including distinguished members of the Front Bench opposite? When does he propose to move in this most urgent matter?

Mr. Butler

I have already had consultations with a great many hon. Members, most of whom have asked me to separate the question of accommodation from that of procedure. That is a wise thing to do. Taking the question of accommodation only, on which the hon. Member is particularly interested, we have had certain disappointments about places near the House which we hoped would be available. I shall certainly consider any proposal for considering the matter and carrying it further. Perhaps, if the hon. Member will have a talk with me, we can see what we can do.

Mr. Jeger

Despite the disdain with which the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) regards the question of the personal liberty of the subject, would the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the question with which the censure Motion deals has aroused public concern all over the country? Would he, therefore, suspend the rule, or make arrangements for its suspension, on Wednesday to allow the Home Secretary adequate time in which to defend himself?

Mr. Butler

I do not think that the Home Secretary envisages undue difficulty in defending himself, but he will welcome the opportunity for a fuller statement than has been hitherto possible in the rush period of Question Time. Up to now I do not think that it should be necessary to suspend the rule, in view of the business which precedes that. I will certainly keep in touch with the usual channels, but I think that the arrangements we made should be perfectly fair for a fair expression of opinion, including a further contribution by the hon. Member.

Mr. Peyton

May I go back to the question asked by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell)? Will my right hon. Friend consider giving Government time for debate of the questions of accommodation and procedure? I really feel that they have been dealt with very superficially in the past. Many of us would welcome another opportunity of discussing them.

Mr. Butler

As is known, I was proposing to consider one particular question of procedure for tabling in the new year, put to me by the Opposition, and also to reconsider the findings of the last Select Committee on Procedure. It would be very valuable for me to have the views of the House to the maximum amount possible. I cannot give a definite date, but, again, I would repeat that I would separate procedure from accommodation, and would take accommodation on a different occasion.

Mr. S. Silverman

May I revert to the question asked by my right hon. Friends about a free vote on the Betting and Gaming Bill? Would the Leader of the House consider one important precedent for what my right hon. Friends have been suggesting to him—the occasion when the Government took a very strong view on one side of a controversial question but, nevertheless, felt that the question was of such a nature that, while expressing their view quite strongly, they thought it right to leave the ultimate decision to the private judgment of Members, without putting on the Whips on either side?

I refer, of course, to the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill of 1956. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman got into considerable difficulties on that occasion, but the only reason why he got into difficulties was—was it not?—that he made the mistake of undertaking to abide by the result of a free vote in both Houses of Parliament without assuring himself in advance that the two Houses would reach the same conclusion. Therefore, he found himself in considerable difficulty, but if he were to follow that precedent and undertake to abide by the decision of the House of Commons on a free vote, there would be no difficulties of any kind.

Mr. Butler

I did not arrive on the scene at the Home Office until the very last stages of that Measure. Therefore, it was not so much personally that I got into trouble, but that I think we all got somewhat confused. I know that it imposes very heavy responsibility on us now. I really should not like to depart from the line I have taken about the Bill, but I do not expect that any Member will find any difficulty in either expressing views or voting according to conscience, or putting forward constructive ideas. I do not see why any Member should find that the passage of the Bill should inhibit him in any way.

Mr. Albu

Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that the free and vigorous debate that he has encouraged the House to have on this Bill cannot possibly take place if every vote is a foregone conclusion? Has not the time come when we really should consider whether every vote on every single Measure introduced by the Government has to be treated as a vote of confidence?

Mr. Butler

I think that we had better wait and see how we get on. Perhaps the votes will not all be foregone conclusions on this Bill.

Mr. Chetwynd

Why not have a gamble on it?