HC Deb 20 December 1960 vol 632 cc1091-117

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising Tomorrow, do adjourn till Tuesday, 24th January.—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]

4.20 p.m.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House for trying to jump the gun. All I can do is to repeat as shortly as I can the urgency with which the rest of the world is looking at the problem of the rearmament with atomic weapons of the State of Israel.

Apart from the Government, I would have thought that the Opposition, who are so keen on confining atomic weapons to Europe, would have been the first to have noticed these reports and would have encouraged the Government to insist that no nuclear Power should attempt to hand out nuclear weapons or assist other countries who do not possess them to get the means of making them. Can one imagine a more dangerous place to manufacture atomic weapons than the Middle East, and in particular the State of Israel?

I would like to vote for the Motion and go home at Christmas time, but on one condition, that the Lord Privy Seal, out of courtesy to the House, will make a statement on this matter which is of great importance throughout the world. After all, it is the subject of a leading article in The Times today. If it was discussed last night by the United Nations Political Committee, I should have thought that, out of courtesy, the Lord Privy Seal would have mentioned the attitude of our Government and the responsibility of our Government to the armistice between Israel and the Arab States. When I telephoned the Foreign Office I was surprised to find the attitude: "Nothing particular is going to happen. We are not interested". Apparently the Government's attitude is: "You can all have atomic weapons. Line up, and we will give them to you. You can have just what you want".

Our great ally in N.A.T.O., France, having considered the matter, promptly decides that to help the Algerian war, it would a good thing to assist the State of Israel to manufacture atomic weapons. For what purpose? For what purpose can the State of Israel want atomic weapons? What is the point of the State of Israel having atomic weapons? How can the Government, having signed an agreement on an arms embargo—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot discuss the merits of the question on this Motion. I am afraid that he must keep in order.

Mr. Yates

I do not want to trespass on the time of the House on this Motion. I would have thought that we would have acceded to the resolution of the United Nations Political Committee on Monday night asking all its members, voluntarily and of their own endeavour, not to hand out nuclear arms or to give other countries nuclear armaments or methods of making nuclear weapons. I admit that the Government abstained from voting on that Resolution, but I should have thought that when they heard that their ally, France, was prepared to assist one of the combatant countries in the Middle East to manufacture atomic weapons—

Mr. Speaker

Order. My duty does not allow me to permit the hon. Gentleman to go on arguing the merits of the case on this Motion. I must ask him to adhere to the Question before the House.

Mr. Yates

I am not prepared to vote for the Motion. The rest of the world thinks this matter is important, and I tried to move the Adjournment of the House yesterday. The United Nations thinks the matter is important and I should have thought that out of courtesy to the House Her Majesty's Government could have produced tomorrow without fail a statement stating Britain's attitude towards the supply of atomic weapons by her ally, France, to Israel, bearing in mind that we are fundamentally responsible for the security of Israel and the Arab States. Out of courtesy to the country and to the House and because of my interest in Israel and the Arab States, I would have thought that the Minister would have done that. If he does not, I shall vote against the Motion.

4.25 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

It has become common form in recent years, whenever this Motion is moved, for some hon. Members to oppose it to call attention to the large number of important matters which might be discussed by the House if only we did not adjourn. The result of the debate has always been the same. We always do adjourn, but it is not for that reason an unprofitable Parliamentary enterprise because it serves to concentrate, at the moment when we are temporarily departing from our duties, our attention on the important matters that we are leaving neglected and with which perhaps we might have dealt.

The hon. Gentleman has raised one of them. I think that he chose it with some lack of proportion and on rather a slender foundation. Before the State of Israel was created and this House was still responsible for it as a mandated British territory, I played some little part in the House in the events which led to the establishment of the State of Israel.

I would feel deep personal grief if the statement to which the hon. Gentleman has referred turned out to be true.

Mr. W. Yates

It is true.

Mr. Silverman

I hope it is not, and I hope that proper investigation will be made and that it will be found that it is not true. Incidentally, I propose to spend a few days there myself—

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that the hon. Member can do that in order.

Mr. Silverman

I was in the middle of a conditional sentence, the end of which was, "if this Motion happens to be carried, and I will make some inquiries for myself."

If the hon. Gentleman was saying that the House ought not to adjourn until we had a greater opportunity to discuss the statement made by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs about the new contribution, in the season of peace and good will, of nuclear weapons to Europe, I could have sympathised much more with his point. I dare say many of my hon. Friends will wish to draw attention to a number of other reasons why we should not adjourn so soon, or for so long, but I want to confine my protest to one limited question.

The Leader of the House is also the Home Secretary. I do not think it has often happened that there might be a conflict of loyalties, or a conflict of duties, between his function as Home Secretary and his function as Leader of the House, but on this occasion there may be. He has said repeatedly that he recognises the importance of the Motion—Death Penalty (Refusal of Reprieve)—in the name of about 80 of my colleagues, of which notice was given nearly a month ago. He has said that the only reason why we have not discussed it, and why he is not able to announce a date when we may discuss it, is that he has no time or that the Government have no time. As Leader of the House he says that there is no time, but, of course, he is saying it also as Home Secretary because it is a Motion directed against his action and his judgment. If we were to sit one day more, or if the Adjournment were for one day less, we could debate this Motion. I, for one, am not prepared to accept the Motion now before the House, or to vote for it, until we get a more satisfactory statement from the Home Secretary as to what his attitude and his intentions are as regards the Motion to which I have referred.

Before taking the matter further, let me make two concessions, if they can be so called. Something has been said in this discussion about the Motion having been put down at the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman. "Invitation" is not altogether the right word. Nobody pretends that the Home Secretary wanted the Motion to go down, or that he wanted it to be discussed. What happened was that when he was asked for an explanation of some things, for which he is constitutionally bound to be responsible to the House, he said that it was not the practice to give it and that hon. Members—I am not quoting him verbatim—who wanted to raise the matter and hold him to his constitutional responsibilities had a remedy, which was to put down a Motion.

That was not an invitation by the Home Secretary, but it was an indication that that was the only way in which the matter could be raised and in which he could be compelled to make to the House such statement as he thought it right to make. For that reason, it was put down and, therefore, to some extent he shares responsibility for the appearance of the Motion on the Order Paper, and for its continuance there until it has been disposed of one way or the other.

He said this afternoon that he recognised the importance of the subject and of the Motion, which means that he knows that it is not a trivial matter and that it is a Motion which might reasonably be expected to be put on the Order Paper by reasonable hon. Members exercising their responsibilities and their duty. Therefore, he must do something more about it than going on time after time and week after week saying, "Of course, you are right to put it down, and, of course, it is very important, and, of course, I am responsible to the House of Commons, but I cannot tell you whether I will ever be able to find time to discuss it." In that way he could reduce the responsibility of the Home Secretary to the House to an absurdity. I am sure that he does not want to do that, but that is the way in which to make the public mind, already confused and upset about some of his decisions, more confused than ever, and to bring the whole state of the law into complete contempt.

The second matter which I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this. I do not know whether he is an assiduous reader of the Sunday Press, but he may have seen an article by Mr. Laurence Thompson in the Observer last Sunday. I read it with surprise and regret. Mr. Laurence Thompson is a well-known Parliamentary journalist, a man of great integrity and great experience, but, if I may put it in the vernacular, on this occasion he has put his foot in it. In the course of the article he suggested that I intended to put down a Motion of this kind on every occasion on which there was a capital sentence and on which a reprieve was refused for the purpose of harassing the Home Secretary. I assure him in public, what I am sure he has already realised himself, that that is without justification and was said without any consultation with me. I have no such intention.

I have never followed any such practice, and I cannot imagine anything more cruel or anything more unfair, while capital punishment remains, than for the Minister, who has this dreadful responsibility of deciding time after time, to feel that on every occasion he is going to be harried and bullied and criticised on the Floor of the House for every decision that he makes. I have never followed such a practice, and I have no intention of following such a practice, and it would be entirely wrong for any hon. Member to do so.

The situation is quite different. The responsibility of the Home Secretary to the House has nothing whatever to do with the rights and wrongs of capital punishment. If we abolish it, the question will never arise again. That is true, but while we retain it in any form there will be and always has been preserved the Prerogative of mercy, and for the Prerogative of mercy the Home Secretary will always remain responsible to the House of Commons.

The question only arises and ought fairly only to arise in circumstances in which prima facie there seems to be a reasonable case for reprieve and yet a reprieve is refused. It is only on those occasions when it is right and fair and proper for Motions of this kind to be put down and, so far as I know, in my 25 years' experience in the House, such a Motion has been put down only once before, on the occasion of the first capital sentence after the pasage of the Homicide Act, 1957, the case of Vickers, when the Attorney-General's fiat to appeal to the House of Lords was refused and in which a petition for reprieve was also refused. That is the only other occasion, and I cite it only to show that, although it is right and proper in fitting cases to put down such a Motion, there never has been any general practice of doing it in order to embarrass the Home Secretary and to tempt him to do the unconstitutional thing of altering the law of the land by administrative behaviour, which would be quite wrong.

Having said that, I ask the Home Secretary to appreciate the spirit in which the Motion has been put down and to believe that we shall go on pressing him time after time until time for a debate is given. I have no intention of saying a single word about the merits of his decision or the merits of the Motion. This is not the time or place for it and to do so would be completely out of order. However, this was a case which aroused fairly considerable and influential interest before his decision was made, as the correspondence columns of The Times made amply clear.

The decision was taken against a background of a decision in the House of Lords of which the right hon. Gentleman is aware. If ever there was a case in which some explanation was due to the House and to the public it is this case of Forsyth and Harris, and I hope that the Home Secretary will again consider the matter carefully and responsibly, as I know he will, so as not to frustrate this constitutional right of the House of Commons to demand from him an explanation and justification of the things that he does in our name.

4.38 p.m.

Colonel Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

I will not take up the time of the House for more than two minutes, but I want to express my great regret at the fact that our rising for the Chrismas Recess tomorrow will not give an opportunity to debate a Motion which appeared on the Notice Paper yesterday in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), who is not here and whom I have not consulted, and which concerns the timing of Her Majesty's Christmas broadcast, to which we always look forward with such eager anticipation.

I cannot do better than read the Motion, because it is extremely well worded and expresses a point of view with which practically every hon. Member will agree. It reads as follows: That in the opinion of this House it would be widely welcomed if the British Broadcasting Corporation would arrange for Her Majesty's Christmas broadcast to be given at 3 p.m. on Christmas Day; that this House approves the decision to abandon its broadcasting at 12 noon which would have prevented churchgoers from hearing the broadcast but considers that 1 p.m. would interfere with those cooking and/or eating their Christmas dinners; and that Her Majesty's loyal subjects would appreciate the opportunity of hearing Her message in the quiet of Christmas afternoon.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

What about the Amendment which seeks to add and of hearing that an extra supply of coal had been granted to old-age pensioners to enable them to listen to the broadcast in warmth and comfort".

Colonel Beamish

I am speaking about the Motion in what I hope to be a completely non-controversial spirit. Although I appreciate the point of view of the Amendment, which is substantial, it does not fit in with the point of view which I am trying to express, and with which, I think, the whole House will agree. I simply want to say to the Leader of the House that I personally feel that this point of view would have a great deal of support both in the House and outside, and that I regard the decision of the B.B.C. as inexplicable and deplorable and I would be most grateful—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

I am afraid the hon. and gallant Member is now going into the merits of the question.

Colonel Beamish

I have, in fact, concluded, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I am sorry if I was out of order in my last sentence. I hope that the Leader of the House may be able to tell us if there has been a favourable reaction from the B.B.C.

4.41 p.m.

Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)

I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) in what he has said. On the first point, I personally would be strongly in favour of suggesting an even longer Recess to enable him to lead the campaign for nuclear disarmament in Israel as well.

Mr. S. Silverman

I shall make my contribution.

Mr. Donnelly

That is duly noted.

On the second and much more serious matter, regarding the Motion concerning capital punishment of two individuals and the fact that time has not been found or provided by the Government for a statement on the matter, perhaps I may be permitted to say to the Home Secretary that I am sorry about the unfortunate choice of words in which I said that he had invited my hon. Friend to put down that Motion. I appreciate that it might have been better to have said that he indicated that this was a way in which the matter could be discussed.

We all sympathise with the Home Secretary in the appalling human burden which he has to sustain, but in this matter I should have thought that if the House does not have a statement when a Motion of this nature is put down, supported by a very large number of hon. Members of the House, the House of Commons itself has a right to insist upon a statement being made It is a very important constitutional right that we have regarding capital punishment which is being allowed to go, simply because of no Government time being made available, and I strongly support what my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne has said about the desirability of the Government making a statement.

4.43 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Normally, I would support the opposition to the Motion that is now before the House. I have done so on more than one occasion in the past, and one of the reasons why I cannot support the hon. Member for the Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) in his argument against the Motion is this. He has not provided any factual evidence that atomic bombs are being, made in the State of Israel at the present time.

Mr. W. Yates

I do not want to be discourteous to the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), and neither do I want to—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member would be out of order if he did.

Mr. Lipton

The fact remains that the reasons given by the hon. Member for The Wrekin for opposing the Motion for the Christmas Adjournment are not substantiated by any hard facts, and simply because they are not substantiated by hard facts I think the Government would be entitled to adopt the attitude that, as there is no evidence which indicates that atomic bombs are being manufactured in Israel, there is no reason why the Government of this country—

Mr. Yates

On a point of order. I did not understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, why you ruled me out of order in replying to the hon. Member.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member was talking on the merits of the issue.

Mr. Lipton

I, too, would be out of order if I were to discuss whether the manufacture of atomic bombs in Israel is right or wrong. What I am trying to argue is that the hon. Member for The Wrekin has advanced the argument that the House should not adjourn for the Christmas Recess unless the Government make a statement on this matter. There is nothing on which the Government can make a statement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—because, if the hon. Member will refer again to the copy of The Times that he has with him—fortunately, more than one copy of The Times is printed daily, and I also happen to have a copy of The Times—and if he will refer to a little lower down the page to a statement made by the Atomic Energy Commission of Israel, he will find that Israel is not producing atomic weapons. The hon. Member has only to look a little bit further down the first column at the official statement by the Atomic Energy Authority of Israel to see that it indicates that Israel is not making atomic bombs. There is a reactor, it is true, at a place called Rehovot, and it was built with the assistance of the United States Government under President Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" programme. There is another—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am afraid that the hon. Member is now going beyond the Motion.

Mr. Lipton

I readily accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and accept it much more willingly than, apparently, the hon. Member for The Wrekin did.

Mr. Yates

On a point of order. I think that is a grave reflection on the Chair.

Mr. Lipton

The Chair can protect itself without the aid of the hon. Member for The Wrekin, and if there is any reflection on anybody it is on the hon. Member himself and not on the Chair.

In these circumstances, I do not feel that Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are called upon to postpone the Adjournment of the House—

Mr. Yates


Mr. Lipton

—on certain unsubstantiated statements made by the hon. Member for The Wrekin.

Mr. Yates

The Daily Mail.

Mr. S. Silverman

That makes it worse.

Mr. Lipton

As my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) says, that makes it worse.

In these circumstances, I want to relieve the Leader of the House of any feeling of anxiety about these reasons for not adjourning for the Christmas Recess. No evidence has been adduced. I shall be visiting Israel within the next forty-eight hours, and I shall be able to find out for myself whether there is any substance in what the hon. Member for The Wrekin has said.

4.47 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I want to raise an entirely different point, although, indeed, I feel tempted to deal with the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), particularly when we bear in mind that there will be something else happening in Scotland tomorrow in regard to the death penalty that will be causing very much concern to people who feel that it is time that we got rid of this barbarous form of punishment.

The Motion is in two parts, concerning, firstly, whether we rise tomorrow, and, secondly, whether we should come back on 24th January. Having had a look at the business which we have been told we are to conduct during the week we come back, I wonder whether we should bother to come back on the 24th, because, the House should remember, I am a Scotsman and 25th January is a very important day in Scotland. I was thinking of suggesting to the Government that all the business put down for that day could well be done on the 26th, in order to leave Scotland fairly free to enjoy Burns Night.

On the question whether we rise tomorrow, it is a much more serious point. In this House just over a year ago, we had a tremendous amount of excitement, statements by Ministers, Questions and all the rest about a few cracks that had appeared on M.1. Something has happened in Scotland during this week which is really a major industrial catastrophe, in which a whole new section of electrified railway, after four weeks' operation, has been completely put out of action and is now back on steam. All we have had from the Minister of Transport are just a few words to say that there is to be an inquiry relating to the actual circumstances in which there was an explosion.

But a far greater matter is at stake, and will be at stake all the time while the House is in Recess. We in Scotland are concerned to see that this matter is properly investigated in public, and that there is proper and efficient equipment on our modernised railway system. This is something which, as one of my hon. Friends has said, reflects considerably on the whole engineering industry of this country, and particularly the private sector of that engineering industry. The Minister of Transport must be held responsible, because when we discussed this modernisation scheme, we discussed it in terms of cutting back on the actual work done in the railway workshops themselves, and we were told then about the interests of private enterprise in regard to it. Surely, for every day that the Minister is unharried about this the position will be allowed to continue. The Minister of Transport should be harried about his personal responsibility in relation to the matter. The Government also have a personal responsibility.

I am not too happy about these symbols of the great new advance of the railway industry in Scotland lying idle for the next month as a monument to the failures of private enterprise. I want an assurance from the Leader of the House that the Government will go into this question and set up a much wider form of investigation than we have been promised. The Minister said that he is discussing the possibility of a wider investigation, and I think that is absolutely essential from the point of view of industry, transport, and the people of West Scotland.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)

I am disappointed that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) is not in his place at the moment. I also express some concern with regard to the question he raised. I am far more worried about the possible emergence of nuclear weapons of various kinds in the area to which he referred than I am about the statement made by the Lord Privy Seal this afternoon of a possible addition to the already overwhelming armoury of the N.A.T.O. forces. In my opinion, the spread of these weapons into the Middle East may be a far greater danger to the peace of the entire world than anything we have discussed in this House during the Session. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will be able to satisfy the hon. Member for The Wrekin by making a statement about this matter and by expressing Her Majesty's Government's point of view about possible developments, so as to make the House as aware of them as is possible from the information to hand at present.

Although I am in full agreement with adjourning for Christmas, I do not see why we should wait until 24th January to get over the festivities of 25th and 26th December and, for the Scots, the 31st December and 1st January.

Mr. Ross

And 2nd January.

Mr. Reynolds

And 2nd January. Although we should adjourn for Christmas we should be able to return before the date proposed in the Motion. Since we came back at the end of October we have not had time to discuss the housing position in London, under which many hundreds of people at present are under notice to quit because their three-year leases under the Rent Act have fallen in, and who, before the House reassembles towards the end of January, may have had actions commenced against them in the county courts.

I want to draw attention to the fact that in the earlier part of October my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) endeavoured to obtain a Second Reading for a Bill which he had drawn up, which would have prevented the eviction of persons whose three-year leases had come to an end. At that time there was no time for the matter to be dealt with, and when we reassembled for the new Session there was the Gracious Speech, when, as laid down in Standing Orders, it is not possible for private Members to bring in Bills for consideration until such time as those hon. Members who have been fortunate in the Ballot have signified the Long Titles of their Bills.

Since that time, due to changes made in Standing Orders in recent years whereby it is not permissible for more than one ten-minute Bill to be dealt with on one day, and for only certain days to be available for hon. Members to present such Bills, it has not been possible for my hon. Friend to introduce the Bill and ask the House to have it printed and given a Third Reading. Nevertheless, despite the fact that it has not been introduced, people are still being affected by the Rent Act in my constituency and in the constituencies of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members throughout Greater London.

At present it will not be possible for my hon. Friend to ask the leave of the House, under the so-called Ten Minutes Rule, to introduce his Bill until after 24th January, by which time many more dozens of people will have lost their homes due to the effect of the Rent Act. I suggest that it is not necessary for the House to adjourn for such a long period for the Christmas Recess. We could come back very much earlier in January so that we could have time to deal with this Bill.

That would also give the House time to have a closer look at the position that may or may not be arising in the Middle East, and to discuss the Motion to which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has referred, dealing with the actions of the Home Secretary. All those matters could be dealt with.

I understand from some of my constituents that within the next few days they will be providing me with a petition protesting against the housing conditions in my constituency, and that that petition will have over 6,000 signatures on it. If I receive this petition within the next forty-eight hours it will not be possible for me to bring it before the House for at least another month.

Mr. W. Yates


Mr. Reynolds

Although the hon. Member knows that the House normally rises for a month at Christmas my constituents are not so aware. They have therefore made arrangements to hand me the petition within the next day or so, and I shall not be in a position to present it for many days afterwards, No doubt I can square myself with my constituents, but I submit that it would be far better for the House to return earlier so that it can hear the terms of the petition and take some action to deal with the chronic housing situation in my constituency and those of many of my hon. Friends.

For those reasons, although I am in full agreement with the House rising for Christmas—in fact, I hope that whatever happens we shall not have to come here on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or two or three days after that—I do not think it is necessary to remain in Recess until 24th January. We could return earlier in order to deal with the many important matters which the Leader of the House is always telling us the House has no time to deal with. I am pure that the House would be prepared to come back a fortnight, ten days or a week earlier, so that these matters could be fully discussed on the Floor of the House.

4.57 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I support the views put before the House for restricting the length of the Recess as provided for by the Motion. Some of the arguments put forward have related to international matters, and the last one related to a constituency matter. The Government have previously refused to discuss these, very often on the ground that there is no time. The Government should revise the Motion now before the House in order to provide time to discuss them.

There is one very important matter that I suggest should be dealt with before the House rises. I call upon the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister of Works to deal with this matter, which is very urgent, nationally, and to our producers and consumers. It is also urgent from a financial point of view. In Aberdeen a scientific factory is to be closed down. The factory is of international prestige; it has aggregated a band of scientists of world renown, and it is doing great service to producers and consumers, but the Government are wantonly closing it down. They are breaking up that band of scientists and selling the apparatus.

I shall not go into the merits of the case; I merely want to stress the importance of the matter in order to indicate that some Minister should deal with it before the House rises, or, alternatively, that it should be put in the list for urgent debate immediately after the House reassembles.

The apparatus is being sold grossly under value, at a loss to the State, and the scientists are being dis-employed and scattered also at a loss to the State. Consumers and producers are losing thereby. I therefore submit that it is wrong, economically and financially, for the House to part before this matter is adequately dealt with. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) who has accentuated the importance of 25th January. If we are to adjourn on the date mentioned in the Motion, I suggest that alternatively the Motion be amended so as to allow the House a week off surrounding 25th January so that the anniversary of Robert Burns may be properly celebrated.

My major submission is that something should be done about the scientific factory in Aberdeen before the House adjourns. I have here a cutting from the Aberdeen Press and Journal which is headed "Plea for Aberdeen Research Station". This is not only my idea, it is a matter of public importance. The cutting states: The Ministry of Works has told the National Farmers' Union that the Ministry's Research Station at Aberdeen, which has been carrying out work on accelerated freeze-drying, is being closed down and the plant and site disposed of. That shows the urgency of the matter. The cutting goes on: Reporting this to the Union's council meeting in London yesterday, the fruit committee said they had asked the chairman"—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Member is going beyond the terms of the Motion.

Mr. Hughes

I do not want to go into the merits of the matter. I am merely trying to stress its importance and to induce the Government to deal with this urgent and important matter from a financial and economic viewpoint before the House adjourns for the Christmas Recess.

5.2 p.m.

Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)

Surely the number of points raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House in their opposition to the length of the proposed Adjournment are themselves a sufficient indication of the need for the Leader of the House to stop and think again and to give consideration to the length of time for which this House is to adjourn. Obviously, hon. Members who have worked hard in the previous months, look forward to an opportunity of getting up-to-date with their correspondence and their reading. But this country is in a difficult situation at present regarding its domestic policy and its overseas commitments. The Government policies have landed the nation in such difficulties and we are faced with so many problems that hon. Members on both sides of the House would like an opportunity to meet a little earlier than was intended in order to endeavour, as best they can, to help the Government avoid the difficulties into which they appear intent on plunging.

On several occasions we have heard from right hon. and hon. Members opposite that the country is in an economic mess. I am sure that this is agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. W. Yates


Mr. Marsh

If hon. Members opposite do not agree about this, it is a rather depressing indication of the amount of interest they seem to be taking in the present position of the country.

Mr. S. Silverman

That in itself would be a suitable subject for a debate.

Mr. Marsh

Yes, it would be a suitable subject for a debate in the interests of democracy.

I wish to raise a problem from my own constituency where, as a direct result of the failure of the Government's economic policy, constituents of mine who work in three different factories have found themselves declared redundant. Throughout the country we have seen that hundreds of thousands of people are working on short time and industries are faced with redundancy.

The President of the Board of Trade has admitted publicly that we are in grave danger regarding the country's exports. One would be justified in saying this is not entirely the fault of right hon. and hon. Members opposite. As Conservatives, they are prisoners of an economic system which is archaic and which blunders from one crisis to another. But there are sufficient of the difficulties in which the nation finds itself at present which can be directly attributable to the failure of the Government; and hon. Members are entitled to ask whether, at a time when unemployment is increasing, when short-time working is increasing, when the nation's balance of payments position is becoming increasingly more serious, hon. Members of this House should adjourn, like 600 Neros, to sit at home and watch the position of the nation getting worse.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider recalling the House at an earlier date than was previously thought necessary so that we may consider the dangers and difficulties at home and abroad with which the country is now faced, and so that Her Majesty's Opposition may have the opportunity of giving the Government and hon. Members opposite the advice which events have shown that they clearly need.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

I oppose the length of time for which we are rising for the Christmas Recess on three counts. We are all looking forward to a break at Christmas. We are not saying, "We don't want your Christmas pudding" but that we do not need a month in which to digest it. It is the length of time which has concerned hon. Members on both sides of the House. They have raised a number of points which amply make the case that there are urgent and important matters which this House should have the opportunity of discussing. I speak on principle because, for Thursday after Thursday, we have heard the Leader of the House declare that we cannot discuss this or that important issue because of lack of time. We are now saying to the right hon. Gentleman that we are prepared to give him time to have the debates which are so urgently required on all the points which have been raised.

In addition to the anxiety, which I share with my hon. Friends who represent London constituencies, regarding the housing situation and the question of petitions—I also hope to present one in the near future—I wish to draw attention to the whole question of debates on health and the lack of them. We have had important reports from Government Committees, but when we have asked for opportunities to discuss them, the Leader of the House, while agreeing on their importance, has regretted that there was not time to do so. The Cranbrook Report on obstetrics and the conditions under which women give birth to children in this country is something for which there is a great need of discussion, and for the House to be aware of the requirements to provide conditions under which children may be born with the best possible hope of survival.

There is another most important point, and here I cross swords with my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). It was raised by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) and I listened with care to the argument. I am not satisfied. I do not know the position, and I think that when hon. Members do not know the position it is the responsibility of the House to find out. That is what hon. Members were elected to do.

I am concerned about the time factor. I think it was the week before last when I came home very tired and got home in time to hear a little of the programme on television. I heard the noted philosopher, Lord Bertrand Russell, declaring in a quiet, unemotional kind of voice that he thought that all the hon. Members, and this honourable House itself, might well not he in existence in two years' time. That is a matter of great importance.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. That has nothing to do with the Motion before the House.

Mr. Pavitt

I am raising the point that the spread of atomic weapons in Israel—a subject raised by the hon. Member for The Wrekin and by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton—is a matter of public importance, and if there is a likelihood of the spread of these weapons, it means that two years may not be enough, although I am optimistic about this and think that we have a 50–50 chance—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. We cannot go into the merits of that question.

Mr. Pavitt

I hope that the House will agree that we should vote against this long Adjournment and have the opportunity to discuss the points which have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

5.10 p.m.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

I am very reluctant to advise my hon. and right hon. Friends to vote against this Motion, but it must be apparent to the Leader of the House that there are a number of vitally important issues outstanding which would be left outstanding for a longish time if we were to rise tomorrow and not come back until 24th January. To a large extent, what one feels proper to advise will depend on the nature of the reply which the right hon. Gentleman gives.

It is not enough to say that, because this is the sort of routine period for which we adjourn at this time of year, we should do so again this year without some regard to the importance of many, if not all, the issues which have been raised by my hon. Friends. I express no opinion about the point raised by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) because I rather suspect that the facts are not as he alleged them to be, but it is for him to make his case and he has done so. We are all impressed that the other matters which have been raised are of great importance. They have been outstanding for some time, particularly the Motion in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and others. That also applies to some of the other items which have been referred to by my hon. Friends.

This, to some extent, links up with the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition earlier today about the nature of the business for the week when we come back. We are not only asked to go away for the period set out in the Motion but are invited to come back and debate a whole rag-bag collection of not very important items, while still leaving undiscussed these important matters. I want the Leader of the House to say what he feels and whether he will look at the business put down for the first week when we return to see which of these items could be included in that week. We should also have an assurance, in view of the critical nature of many things in the world, that the Government will keep in mind that it may be proper to call us back earlier than the date mentioned in the Motion and, if they feel that way, that they would do so.

5.12 p.m.

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

I willingly respond to the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and the various views expressed in the House. We usually have a debate of this sort on the Motion for the Adjournment for a Recess. I do not think there has been anything unusual in the arguments sincerely put forward by several hon. Members. I would only remind the right hon. Member that this period for the Recess is not unusual. During the time of the Labour Government the period was roughly thirty-one or thirty-two days and this time it is thirty-three days. There is nothing unusual about that. Between 1945 and this date we have adjourned for the Recess for such a period and on some occasions we have adjourned for a longer time.

The second point which I think is of great importance is that power already exists under Standing Orders providing for the recall of the House at short notice, should public interest so require, under Standing Order No. 112. I have said on previous occasions, and I think it has particular importance, that the Government naturally will pay attention to that. We bear it in mind in moving this Motion and asking the House to carry it today. In the state of the world as referred to by the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) it is naturally uppermost in our minds that we are facing a situation such as our predecessors never faced and it is absolutely right to have in reserve these powers of recall of the House if necessary. I should like to add that it is natural for the Government to wish to work with the House of Commons. The House may not always be easy with the Administration, but in my long experience the Government always do better when working with the House than without it. It not only keeps us awake but brings to light various grievances which exist.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) raised some anxieties about atomic construction in Israel. I can give him only the latest news I have been able to acquire. The Times of 20th December quotes the Israel Atomic Energy Commission as denying publicly that Israel is producing atomic weapons. I have just had drawn to my attention a public statement by the Quai d'Orsay that all necessary dispositions have been taken to ensure that the Israel installations which have been the subject of French assistance would be used for exclusively peaceful purposes. That news is welcome for any question of weapons production would be extremely disturbing. I am also informed that at the site south of Beersheba there is nothing to suggest that progress is so advanced that it could be used for military purposes in the near future. I am precluded from going into greater detail in this debate, but I hope that will be to some extent reassuring to my hon. Friend who raised this very important matter.

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) returned to the subject of the Motion signed by himself and a considerable number of his colleagues. I am glad that he and the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) have been able to clear out of the way any misunderstanding that I invited that Motion to be put down in terms. That is not so and that has been made clear. I accept the explanation of the hon. Member and also that of the hon. Member for Pembroke. What is obviously in my mind, and on which hon. Members have been building, is that if hon. Members are dissatisfied with the exercise of the Prerogative or any other action taken by the Secretary of State they are able to remind him that he is answerable to Parliament and they are perfectly entitled to take whatever steps they like. So I think we are in agreement that that is how the matter stands between us. The hon. Member complained of a certain article in a Sunday newspaper. I can only say that I sympathise with him, but I can accept no responsibility for that.

Mr. S. Silverman

I never thought for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman had any responsibility for it, or attached too much importance to it, but, in case other people did, I thought he would like me to say that I had no responsibility for it either.

Mr. Butler

I am glad that that also has been cleared out of the way. The hon. Member and the hon. Member for Pembroke complained that there has not yet been found Government time to discuss this Motion. That remains the position. When one has to weigh the variety of claims upon Government time, one has to consider very carefully the different Motions, the merits of the Motions and the opportunity of dealing with them. That has been done in this case which—as I have repeatedly said—being a matter of life and death, is naturally of the greatest possible importance, but at the same time I have had to bear in mind the fact that it is very unusual, as the hon. Member himself said, to have a Motion of this sort. Looking back over the many decades which preceded my occupancy of the Home Office, I discovered that my predecessors found two things. One was that Motions such as this are rare and the second was that, in fact, very few of my predecessors have felt it possible to give any considerable answer on this personal matter of the exercise of the prerogative.

Mr. S. Silverman

I am sorry to interrupt again. Of course, Motions of this kind are rare, but does the right hon. Gentleman know of any case in which such a Motion has been put down and not debated?

Mr. Butler

No, I do not know of such a case because I have not got my records with me today.

Mr. Silverman

There is none.

Mr. Butler

I know that they are rare and on occasions when the House of Commons has wished to learn about the exercise of the prerogative my predecessors in almost every case which I have examined have found it almost impossible to give the House a satisfactory answer for the reasons set out in the Royal Commission Report, which supported Sir John Anderson's case on this matter in saying that there was great difficulty in a Secretary of State replying to these matters because of the repercussions there might be if he answered in full. I mention that to show the great difficulties in answering such a debate or in finding time for it. I do not preclude altogether such a discussion taking place on an occasion which might be a proper occasion when such a debate might take place.

I shall certainly do my best, within the great limitations imposed on the Secretary of State in exercising the prerogative, to appear and answer before the House, but I could not today give any assurance that I would depart from the normal precedent of my predecessors and be able to satisfy the House by giving the reasons which prompted me to take a certain course of action. Against that background, in view of the amount of business and the lack of time, it was difficult to find an opportunity to debate this Motion.

I ask hon. Members who have been perfectly reasonable in the manner in which they have raised this question and who have been sympathetic about the heavy responsibility laid on the Secretary of State, to realise the great difficulty in which I am placed in this matter.

Mr. G. Brown

One has great sympathy with the Home Secretary. He has made three propositions. One is that it is proper that the Home Secretary should be made to realise that he is answerable to Parliament. Secondly, he would have great difficulty in framing the reply he would be able to make. Thirdly, in the light of that he asks us to understand his difficulties in finding time. I am bound to say I do not see how No. 3 arises out of Nos. 1 and 2. If the right hon. Gentleman is answerable to Parliament time must be found, otherwise it is sheer nonsense to say he is answerable. We could all listen with great sympathy and understanding to the limitations which he would feel in answering the debate, but the debate would then have taken place and he would have been answerable. If he does not do the third simply because it is inconvenient to answer, is he not then demonstrably trying to save himself from being answerable?

Mr. Butler

I do not think the situation is quite as simple as that. In a matter of this weight, complexity and importance one has to weigh up the chances which there are for debating this or that subject. In view of the great difficulty, I do not believe all the Members of this House would, for example, think it was right to put down such a Motion. I do not believe that there is a universal desire for such a debate. As Leader of the House I have to take into account the views of the House as a whole. How I would like to leave this matter today in response to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and after the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) is that it is a matter which weighs on my conscience. I take it extremely seriously and I am sorry that time has not been found. I cannot depart from my statement today in which I gave no undertaking, but I can say that I will weigh what has been said in this debate very carefully and, perhaps, in consultation with my predecessors will find what is the best way out of this very difficult matter.

Various other matters have been raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Colonel Beamish) in relation to the timing of the Christmas broadcast. This matter has been arranged and Her Majesty's pleasure has been taken. I do not think I can go back on that.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) raised the question of the electrification of the Scottish railways. The Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways is causing an inquiry to be made into this and I can assure the House that the Minister will take this matter seriously and act with the utmost dispatch.

Mr. Ross

I asked for a very much wider investigation than that to which reference was made by the Minister of Transport. The right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that from past experience of the Minister of Transport the people of Scotland have not yet any great confidence in either his ability or sincerity to deal with it sympathetically.

Mr. Butler

I do not think that that reflection upon my right hon. Friend is entirely justified. I can only give the assurance on behalf of the Government as a whole that we want to clear the matter up and bring it back before the House. The report is to be published. My right hon. Friend said that in his statement. I can only assure the hon. Member that we are giving the utmost attention to this matter and will not cease to do so during the Recess. It is a matter which, in the interests of the travelling public, especially in Scotland, in the neighbourhood of Glasgow, ought to be cleared up. I have noted the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt), the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) and the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds). I do not think I can take them further on this occasion because I am precluded from going into the merits of a subject in answering this Motion. I would only say that it is usual to adjourn for the Christmas Recess and, with the undertaking that I have given that we shall operate the Standing Order in question, I hope the House will agree that this House can depart.

Mr. W. Yates

On this very important point of atomic weapons and whether we adjourn or not, the right hon. Gentleman has said the Quai d'Orsay has said that there is no atomic equipment being made in Israel and also at Beersheba. Can he tell us whether communications from the Government of the United States say the same thing or not? If the United States Government have given different information as compared with the other two in collusion—Israel and France—I am prepared to think again.

Mr. Butler

I am afraid I cannot go any further in my statement. One statement was made on behalf of the Israel Atomic Authority and one on behalf of Quai d'Orsay. I cannot add to that.

Mr. G. Brown

We accept the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman has answered and it is not my intention to advise my hon. Friends to divide on this Motion.

On the subject of the Motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), we are very glad that the Home Secretary will think about this, discuss it and see what can be done. I am sure he will understand the fear of those who have signed it and those of us who have not and will not want to. Our fear is that if one acquiesces in the whittling down of the technical answerability of the Secretary of State to the House to the point where it is only a technicality and debate can be frustrated, one has, in fact, whittled down one of the great rights of the House to nothing at all. That is what worries some of us. I was very glad to hear what the Secretary of State said, and I thank him for it.

Mr. Butler

I have with me all the precedents in this matter and I have a statement about the Prerogative. What the Executive must do is to preserve the prerogative and what Parliament must do is to preserve the answerability of a Secretary of State to Parliament. I accept the constitutional position as stated by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that there would be no answerability by any Minister to Parliament for anything if Parliament were not allowed the opportunity of debating any question on which they felt the Minister was wrong?

Mr. Butler

I think the real answer is what I said in my original speech. I ask hon. Members not to under-estimate the seriousness with which I regard this. This is an important Motion, but as Leader of the House I have to weigh it up in the light of general opinion.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising Tomorrow, do adjourn till Tuesday 24th January.