HC Deb 18 February 1960 vol 617 cc1434-42
Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business of the House 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, 22ND FEBRUARY—Consideration of private Members' Motions until 7 o'clock.

Afterwards the following Government business will be taken:

Committee and remaining stages of the European Free Trade Association Bill, and of the Distress for Rates Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation Measure.

TUESDAY, 23RD FEBRUARY—Supply [2nd Allotted Day]: Committee.

Civil Estimates and Estimates for Revenue Departments Vote on Account, which it is proposed to take formally.

A debate will take place on Local Employment Areas, on an Opposition Motion.

WEDNESDAY, 24TH FEBRUARY—Report and Third Reading of the Horticulture Bill.

THURSDAY, 25TH FEBRUARY—Supply [3rd Allotted Day]: Report.

Civil Estimates and Estimates for Revenue Departments Vote on Account, which it is proposed to take formally.

A debate will take place on the Local Authority Rate Burden, on an Opposition Motion.

At 7 o'clock, as the House is aware, the Chairman of Ways and Means has set down opposed Private Business for consideration.

FRIDAY, 26TH FEBRUARY—Consideration of private Members' Motions.

In addition to announcing the proposed business for the following Monday, it may be to the general convenience of the House for me to announce the dates of the Defence debate and of the debates on the Service Estimates, which are as follows:

MONDAY, 29TH FEBRUARY, and TUESDAY, 1ST MARCH—A debate will take place on the Defence White Paper.

THURSDAY, 3RD MARCH—We shall consider the Air Estimates, 1960–61.

MONDAY, 7TH MARCH—The Navy Estimates, 1960–61.

WEDNESDAY, 9TH MARCH—The Army Estimates, 1960–61.

THURSDAY, 10TH MARCH—We shall consider the various Money Votes required for the Services before the end of the Financial Year.

The business on these four days will be taken on allotted Supply Days and the debates on the Air, Navy and Army Estimates will, of course, arise on Votes A in Committee of Supply.

The Money Votes to be taken in Committee of Supply on Thursday. 10th March, will be announced later.

Mr. Gaitskell

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the Government will fulfil their promise to find time for a debate on the accommodation and facilities available to hon. Members for the discharge of their duties?

Mr. Butler

As the right hon. Gentleman will remember, we suggested half a day before Christmas. When that was thought not to be enough, we said that we would attempt to arrange a full day, but there is a little difficulty ahead because of the business I have announced. This is a busy time of the year, but no doubt we can have conversations on the matter.

Dame Irene Ward

With reference to Tuesday's business, can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that it will not be just a Board of Trade discussion, but that a senior Minister from some other Department will also take part, having regard to the fact that ship repairers are very disappointed with the new Local Employment Bill? Their complaints have had to be directed, under the proper procedure, to the Ministry of Transport. In view of this, it would hardly be fair if their complaints are discussed in the House and an answer had to be given by the Board of Trade when, actually, it is for the Ministry of Transport to protect their interests.

Mr. Butler

As I understand, the debate will be based on the Local Employment Bill, so the primary responsibility will be a matter for the President of the Board of Trade. I shall, however, pay attention to and discuss the point raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman yet in a position to say when the House will be going into Committee of Ways and Means to hear the Chancellor open his Budget?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir, but I shall tell the House as soon as I can.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

May I ask a question about the beginning of the Estimates season? In this new Parliament, is time not to be allowed for hon. Members generally, and particularly those on this side of the House, to raise questions concerning finance, about the Estimates, value for money and a broad judgment on the questions that the Select Committee on Estimates deals with in detail? Are we to fall back into the old habit of allowing the Opposition to move a Motion on a polemical topic of the day while we vote hundreds of millions of pounds on the nod?

Mr. Butler

While it is true that the House is the guardian of the nation's finances, there are also certain traditions in relation to our procedure and the way in which we handle these Estimates. I agree that it is important that the House should retain its traditional rôle of guarding the finances, but I cannot go any further than the statement that I have made today.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not a fact that the Supply Days are Opposition time and that it is for the Opposition to choose the subjects to be debated on them? Is it not also the case that during the Budget debate and afterwards there are plenty of opportunities for discussing the Estimates and other matters of finance?

Mr. Butler

It is clearly recognised that on Supply Days the business is chosen by the Opposition. The Government of the day have always respected this feature of our constitution. It is equally important, when we can, to use the opportunity to discuss the Estimates, as my noble Friend suggests, and I hope that that point will not escape the notice of the Opposition in choosing their subjects for debate.

Mr. H. Wilson

Since the right hon. Gentleman is so keen on the House maintaining control over expenditure, may I ask whether it is not a fact that in previous years the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a full statement of any reasons for changes in the Civil Estimates? That was started by the present Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1956. In view of the inordinate increase in Government expenditure in the Estimates for 1960–61, why has the Chancellor broken with that precedent?

Mr. Butler

The Chancellor of the Exchequer will have ample opportunity to make observations on this subject. I cannot add any more today.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. Am I not right in saying that, although we changed the practice of the House in respect of debates on the Service Estimates, we have never changed it in respect of the Civil Estimates, which are still exempted business? In other words, if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen desire to raise other subjects, they have the whole night in front of them in which to do so.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that the debates on Civil Estimates are exempted business, but I would rather instruct myself before I purport to rule as against the hon. Member's experience.

Mr. Donnelly

Will the right hon. Gentleman say when he thinks that it will no longer be possible for the Government to put off having a debate on the railways?

Mr. Butler

The Government would welcome an opportunity for a positive debate on the railways in due course.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Yates.

Mr. Collick

On a point of order. May I ask a question?

Mr. Speaker

In due time. I thought that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) was rising to a point of order.

Mr. W. Yates

In view of the Prime Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones), may I ask the Leader of the House whether he will consider giving time for hon. Members to discuss the value of appointing a Royal Commission to examine trade union law and practice, in the public interest?

Mr. Butler

We have so much financial and Supply business at the moment that I cannot see an immediate opportunity for that.

Mr. Collick

Have the Government any proposals to put before the House for putting the finances of the British Transport Commission on a sound basis so that the Commission may stand some chance of overcoming its problems? When is the House to have an opportunity to discuss British Railways?

Mr. Butler

I can answer questions on business, but I should not deal with questions of policy in answering business questions. The fact that the House wishes to discuss British Railways, including their future, is a point which we have very much in mind, but I cannot make a further statement today.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a Motion on the Order Paper, signed by a large number of Conservative Members,

[That this House requests the Government as a matter of urgency to institute a full scale inquiry into every aspect of British Railways, on the following terms of reference:"To make recommendations as to the appropriate rôle in the second half of the twentieth century of a railway system laid out in the nineteenth and how this might be achieved and what would be the cost to the Exchequer within that context, to report on the ability of a modernised railway system to give efficient service to the public at competitive rates and to provide conditions for those employed on the railways to take pride in their work and to earn a living comparable to those in other industries; and to make recommendations for the hiving off and, where necessary, disposal of all railway properties and activities superfluous to the operation of a modern railway system and to submit a report thereon to the House within twelve months"] and an Amendment, signed by myself and several of my hon. Friends,

[leave out from "industries" to end and add "and calls upon the Government to recognise the rights of all Members of Parliament to receive full information about a dispute gravely affecting the interests of the travelling public and the employees of the British Transport Commission and to make a full statement to Parliament on the recent dispute and the negotiations which brought about a settlement".]

asking for an inquiry and also for a statement from the Government on the general position of the railways? Is it not true that the Government contemplate making a statement on this subject, apart from the question of an inquiry?

May I also ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has seen the Motion on the Order Paper, signed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, referring to discrimination against British shipping? As this is a very important topic, will he find time for a general debate on it?

[That this House calls for increased efforts on the part of Her Majesty's Government to renew its endeavours to secure free and fair competition for British shipping and to redouble its efforts to obtain a reconciliation of shipping policies wth the United States of America whose discriminatory shipping practices run counter to its general trade policy of liberalisation.]

Mr. Butler

I have seen the Motion and the Amendment on the subject of the railways. It is the Government's wish, in due course, to make a statement about the railways and the plans for the future, which are subjects in everyone's mind.

I have also seen the Motion on the Order Paper about shipping and discrimination. I think that it is more than likely that time will be found for a discussion of the former subject before the latter question arises.

Mr. Driberg

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the opposed Private Business to which he referred includes, next week, the City of London (Guild Churches) Bill?

Mr. Butler

I do not think that it does.

Mr. Fernyhough

In view of the substantial increase in the Service Estimates and the desire of hon. Members sitting behind the Leader of the House to probe into Government expenditure, when the right hon. Gentleman announces business for next week in relation to the Estimates will he see that ample time is given for all hon. Members who want to take part in the debates to do so?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. We had a certain time available last year, and I have it in mind that we should consider what is the general convenience of the House this year in deciding the time available.

Mr. Nabarro

Would my right hon. Friend consider making a statement next week on the question of initiating a debate on the Supplementary Civil Estimates, having regard to their magnitude this year? Though, undeniably, it may be exempted business, how can Government back-bench Members like myself, or my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), initiate a debate? Would it not be convenient for us to do so some time next week, or the following week?

Mr. Butler

It is always instructive and valuable to hear my hon. Friend's views. He is on a matter of great public importance which I will certainly discuss with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the light of representations made.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon Gentleman aware that we propose to have debates on the Supplementary Civil Estimates a little later?

Mr. Butler

I cannot go further ahead with business than I have very exceptionally done this time, but we have that point in mind.

Mr. Lipton

May we have an opportunity of discussing at an early date the question of Government interference with B.B.C. television programmes, and, in particular, the pressure which was brought to bear on the B.B.C. to include the hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) in a debate on the railways which took place last Monday night between the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol. South-East (Mr. Benn)? These "Big Brother" tactics on the part of the Government are not at all satisfactory.

Mr. Butler

I cannot accept the insinuations made by the hon. Member. Since I have been a Member of the House, and since these organisations of publicity have been established—namely, the B.B.C. and the rival organisation—accusations have been made from both sides of the House consecutively of alleged pressure. In the end, I think that we reached a certain meed of liberty.

Mr. Reynolds

In announcing the business for next week the Leader of the House referred to certain Private Bills and Private Members' Motions? Will he give consideration to the notice which is posted in the Division Lobby, a copy of which he has read, in order that it should include in greater detail all the business to be discussed in the House? There would then be at least one place in the Palace of Westminster where an hon. Member could see on a notice all the business which is to be discussed, instead of having to read the statement by the Leader of the House, then look at the Order Paper for Private Business, then look at the Notice for the Adjournments and then see whether there is a notice of a Ten Minutes Rule Bill.

Can the right hon. Gentleman see that in the Division Lobby, to start with, while negotiations continue about the Order Paper of the House, there is a notice for each day's proceedings?

Mr. Butler

I had the pleasure of meeting some new hon. Members from this side of the House yesterday, and this was a point in which they were interested. There are hon. Members on both sides who would like things set out a little more clearly. This will mean a little consultation. I suggest that I should reserve my position today and study what the hon. Member has said.

Mrs. Castle

Does the Leader of the House remember that as long ago as before Christmas we said that we wanted a debate on accommodation and that it must be a full day's debate? As this affects the working efficiency of Members in the discharge of the rest of their duties, ought it not to have greater priority than that which he has given to it?

Mr. Butler

I think we should try to fit it in as soon as we can. I certainly agree that it is important. We got through our debate on procedure successfully, I think, and I am prepared now to have a debate on accommodation.

Mr. Swingler

Can you, Mr. Speaker, or the Leader of the House now say whether the Civil Estimates for next week are exempted business? Will backbench hon. Members on either side be in order after the debate in raising detailed questions on the subject? May we be told whether that is the position?

Mr. Speaker

The Vote on Account is not exempted business. The rest of the question, I suppose, is for the Leader of the House.

Mr. Manuel

I hope that the Leader of the House is seized of the importance of arranging an early debate on the railways. It is all very well to say that we are to have a statement, but if debates are allowed on the B.B.C., virtually Government-sponsored, while train crews are leaving their employment on the railways, thus making it impossible for the Commission to run trains which are urgently needed, surely it is time that the House heard the views of the responsible Ministers so that action may be taken to have normal train services running throughout the country?

Mr. Butler

It is quite clearly in the interests of the House to discuss this matter at a not-too-distant date. I have noted the hon. Member's views.

Mr. Manuel

Thank you very much.