HC Deb 03 March 1960 vol 618 cc1423-32
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, 7TH MARCH—Supply [5th Allotted Day]: Navy Estimates will be considered in Committee on Vote A.

TUESDAY, 8TH MARCH—Second Reading of the Gas Bill and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution, which it is hoped to obtain by about 7 o'clock.

Second Reading of the Radioactive Substances Bill [Lords] and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

Report and Third Reading of the Water Officers Compensation Bill [Lords].

Import Duties (Synthetic Organic Dyestuffs) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 9TH MARCH—Supply [6th Allotted Day]: Army Estimates will be considered in Committee on Vote A.

THURSDAY, 10TH MARCH—Supply [7th Allotted Day]: Committee.

Air, Votes 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 11 and Air Supplementary Estimate;

Navy, Votes 1, 2, 6, 10, 11, 13 and 15 and Navy Supplementary Estimates; and Army Estimates, Votes 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and the Royal Ordnance Factories Estimate and the War Office Purchasing (Repayment) Services and Army Supplementary Estimates.

It may be found to be generally convenient to devote two hours to each of the three Services.

FRIDAY, 11TH MARCH—Consideration of Private Members' Motions.

The proposed business for MONDAY, 14TH MARCH, will be as follows:

Supply [8th Allotted Day]: Committee.

Consideration of the following Civil Supplementary Estimates:

Class VIII, Vote 2, Agricultural and Food Grants and Subsidies;

Class VI, Vote 2, Board of Trade (Assistance to Industry and Trading Services);

Class V, Votes 5 and 10, National Health Service, England, Wales and Scotland.

Consideration of Motions to approve the Civil Defence (Disease) Regulations; and the Fatstock (Protection of Guarantees) Amendment Order.

The proposed business for TUESDAY, 15TH MARCH, will be as follows:

Supply [9th Allotted Day]: Report.

Consideration of the following Civil Supplementary Estimates: Class II, Vote 5, Commonwealth Services.

Vote 8, Colonial Services.

Vote 2, Foreign Office Grants and Services; and Vote 9, Development and Welfare (Colonies, etc.).

At 9.30 p.m. on each of these days the Question will be put from the Chair under Standing Order No. 16, in Committee and on Report, respectively, on the Vote under discussion and on all outstanding Votes required before the end of the financial year.

It may be convenient for me to inform the House that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget on Monday, 4th April, and that it is proposed to adjourn for the Easter Recess on Thursday, 14th April, until Tuesday, 26th April.

Mr. Gaitskell

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the promised Government statement on railway finances is likely to be made?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir, I cannot give an exact date, but it will be in the near future.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Leader of the House tell us a little more about what is in his mind about the railways? He has been asked whether we can have a debate on the railways. Is there any possibility of that, or does he intend that we shall have a debate when the Report of the Guillebaud Committee is published?

Mr. Butler

First, we have to study and digest the Guillebaud Report and await the Government statement. Up to the present there has been no request from the Opposition for a debate on the railways. I think that this matter had better be considered in the light of the Report and the statement.

Mr. Gaitskell

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, is he aware that we are expecting this statement from the Government? Can he say whether it will be produced before the end of the month and, if so, will he give an undertaking to find time for an early debate on it?

Mr. Butler

As I said in my answer to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I think that we had better await the statement and then, perhaps, we could consider the question of a debate.

Mr. Nabarro

Does my right hon. Friend recall that last Tuesday week he made very sympathetic noises in response to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft), my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and myself about Government supporters having facilities for initiating debates on these very substantial Supplementary Civil Estimates this year? Does his statement this afternoon—especially in view of the early date of the Budget—mean that we are to be denied that opportunity and that all the initiative—a monopoly of initiative—in these important matters is to rest on the benches opposite?

Mr. Butler

There is no question of a monopoly of initiative. There is the question of the traditional usage and practice of this House which, for the greater part of this century, has been that on Supply Days the Opposition choose the business. That was arrived at for very good reasons and I see no good reasons for altering that system in principle. I think, however, that my hon. Friends, whose point of view is perfectly legitimate and quite reasonably put forward, will have plenty of opportunity on Monday, 14th March, and Tuesday, 15th March, on these Suppplementary Estimates which happen to cover a wide field.

As for the rest of the problem, may I say that after discussion with my right hon. Friend and those concerned I find that there is no opportunity of providing another day, because we are very hard pressed because of business. However, the Budget date is an early one and I shall be very surprised if, on the days I have announced, and in the course of the Budget debate, my noble Friend and my hon. Friend and their friends, and my friends, do not have a chance of putting their points of view.

Mr. Bellenger

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the question put by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is most urgent, or that it will be very urgent when the Guillebaud Report is received? After all, it deals with the livelihood of a vast number of people in the railway industry. Although the House of Commons will have to debate these matters, they are concerned with the immediate results of that Report. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman be a little more forthcoming about what is the Government's policy, in view of that Report, which must be explained to the House and the nation immediately after it is received?

Mr. Butler

There is nothing in the right hon. Gentleman's observations with which to disagree. It is the desire of the Government to state their point of view after fully digesting the Guillebaud Report. It is essential, as I have said, that the House of Commons should assist in that deliberation. There are matters here affecting the wellbeing of many of our fellow-citizens and of a major industry, so I do not think that there is any difference of opinion. The only difficulty is that I cannot give an exact date when the statement will be made.

Dame Irene Ward

May I ask my right hon. Friend, as he is being so generous to the hon. Member for Kidderminster—

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Lady's honourable Friend.

Dame Irene Ward

—to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), whether he will bear in mind that I, also, should like to initiate a discussion on small fixed incomes and railway superannuitants in the whole context of railway finance? May I "have a go" as well as the hon. Member for Kidderminster?

Mr. Butler

Perhaps there will be some framework in which the hon. Lady's portrait can rest.

Mr. R. Edwards

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been called to a Motion in my name and the names of many hon. Members on this side of the House relating to bases in Spain? Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that as this matter is being discussed by N.A.T.O. this House might have an opportunity of discussing an important issue of this nature?

[That this House views with alarm the increasing use of Spain by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation powers for the establishment of military bases and other military facilities in that country; particularly deplores the recent negotiations by West Germany with Spain for military training facilities beyond the control of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; and places on record its belief that such a German-Spanish alliance will do immeasurable harm in the struggle for democratic practices and urges Her Majesty's Government to oppose, through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, all such developments, particularly in view of the fact that Spain is still a Fascist nation where normal human rights of free Press, political democracy and freedom of association are withheld.]

Mr. Butler

There is a Supplementary Estimate for the Foreign Office, but I doubt whether this matter would come under that, although it is worth examination. Quite apart from that, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has explained the situation to date and any extra information must be given by my right hon. and learned Friend to the House resulting from the discussions in N.A.T.O.

Sir W. Robson Brown

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the Motion standing in my name and in the names of many of my hon. Friends asking for a full-scale inquiry into the railways?

[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".] May I hope, quite apart from discussion of the Guillebaud Report, that a date and time can be fixed for discussion of this Motion as a matter of urgent national importance?

May I also call the attention of my right hon. Friend to the fact that there is a considered Amendment by the Opposition which has received great support from hon. Members opposite and that this makes such a Motion worth debating?

[In line 2, to leave out from "to" to the end and to add: "appoint a Committee representative of both sides of industry to inquire into and report upon the whole problems of British Transport on the following terms of reference:'To make recommendations as to the best means of placing British Railways upon a financial basis which will enable them to pay their way, provide a first-class service to industry and the travelling public, and provide such terms and conditions of employment as will attract the right type of personnel; to examine and report upon the best method of obtaining a substantial increase in road-rail co-ordination so as to reduce the volume of traffic upon the roads and lower the loss of life and injuries caused by road accidents; and to examine and report upon the financial difficulties of road passenger transport, the decline in rural and urban services, and the contribution winch such services, if improved, could make in relieving the congestion of private cars upon our roads'".]

Mr. Butler

I think that that will be covered by the general consideration of the future of transport and the railways. I do not think that we need necessarily relate it to the proposal for an inquiry, but that will not preclude my hon. Friend from expressing his views when we consider the Government statement and anything ensuing from it.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us feel that we do not need to have an inquiry into the facts, because we have a superfluity of facts, but that what is needed is a policy? Will he announce that as soon as possible?

Secondly, while I am sure that none of us would have any opposition at all to the proposal that the Budget should leave its usual day of Tuesday and be opened on a Monday this year, can the right hon. Gentleman say why this change is being made? We are not hostile to it, but could he say why it is being done?

Mr. Butler

There is quite respectable precedent for the Budget being opened on a Monday. On 10 previous occasions since 1922 it has been opened on a Monday, whereas there have been 29 occasions when it has been on a Tuesday and on some rare occasions it has been on a Wednesday. So there is nothing significant in choosing a Monday. It gives a little more time for consideration in view of our departure for Easter and the business which has to be fitted in.

Another consideration is that the President of France is arriving in Britain on the Tuesday and it was thought better, under the circumstances, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have a completely free day to open his Budget on the Monday.

Mr. Wade

Will the Leader of the House say when there will be a debate on the Albemarle Report? I am aware, of course, that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) moved a Motion on this subject last Friday, but, as there were only five minutes available to him then, I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that more time is needed to discuss such an important subject as the Youth Service.

Mr. Butler

Yes, I agree that the Youth Service is an important subject. I also think that the education service, reported on by the Crowther Committee, is equally important. If it is possible to arrange it on an Opposition day, so much the better. I put that into the minds of hon. Members opposite. If that is not possible, it is certainly right to consider whether the House of Commons can find a day for discussion of these Reports.

Mr. Mitchison

Since the Guillebaud Report is a private Report of a public character, will the right hon. Gentleman consider how best to make sufficient copies of the Report available to hon. Members?

Mr. Butler

Yes, I will make inquiries and inform the House.

Sir S. Summers

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it would not be satisfactory to debate on the same day the implications of the Albemarle and Crowther Reports, because that would mean that one or other got insufficient time for debate? I hope that when either is considered it will be given a full day.

Mr. Butler

It is a question of time, but I see the point of view put forward by my hon. Friend.

Mr. V. Yates

I believe that the Leader of the House gave the dates of 14th and 15th March as the days for debating the Civil Estimates. In view of the fact that many hon. Members, on both sides of the House, feel concerned about the large sums of money which are to be voted, do I understand that on those days the business will have to finish at 10 o'clock, or will hon. Members be given adequate time to examine the Civil Estimates?

Mr. Butler

The business will end, as I said, at 9.30 p.m. with the Guillotine, because that is the time when the Votes are put from the Chair. This is the traditional way of handling these Estimates. The choice of Estimates to be debated has been made by the Opposition and, to do them justice, I think that they cover a wide field. I hope that the hon. Member will have an opportunity of getting in to the debate.

Mr. Hamilton

Will the Leader of the House give consideration to running two debates, that on the railways and that on agricultural subsidies, on consecutive days so that we can closely relate the £40 million given, or possibly to be given, to the railway workers with the £300 million, or thereabouts, which is annually given to the farmers?

Mr. Butler

I would not accept the word "given" in either case. The subsidy system for agricultural produce has been widely supported ever since it was first considered under the Labour Government, in 1947. It is a solid basis for agriculture which, I hope, will be respected.

In the case of the railwaymen, I think that theirs is a claim which should receive the sympathetic consideration of the House. It should be considered against the general background of the railways and the economic position. I see no advantage in taking the two debates in juxtaposition.

Mrs. Castle

Could the Leader of the House say when he intends to give us the long promised opportunity for a debate on accommodation?

Mr. Butler

As the spring is obviously rapidly advancing, the hon. Lady can have hope. I hope it will be some time this month.

Mr. Lipton

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to a Motion signed by a number of hon. Members, not including myself, about lengthy speeches? May I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to find time to discuss that Motion?

[That this House, concerned with the large number of honourable Members who are unable to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in major debates, considers that in major debates speeches in this House should be restricted to thirty minutes from the front benches and fifteen minutes from back benches, including Members of Her Majesty's Privy Council.]

Mr. Butler

If I agree with the hon. Member it will give him all the more time to talk.