HC Deb 19 December 1961 vol 651 cc1138-41
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

Yesterday, during the exchanges on the Swiss Loan Agreement, I undertook to see whether an opportunity could be found for it to be considered by the House before the Christmas Adjournment.

Hon. Members will have seen the early day Motion which has since been tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and other hon. Members.

[That this House declines to approve the ratification of the Agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the Swiss Federal Council for a loan by Switzerland to the Government of the United Kingdom.]

Arrangements are being made for this Motion to be debated tomorrow, WEDNESDAY, 20TH DECEMBER, before the Foreign Affairs debate is entered upon.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is not a very satisfactory solution to a problem which the Government created for themselves? Would not it have been far better to have had the debate today instead of interfering with the foreign affairs debate tomorrow? Why was not that possible?

Mr. Macleod

I have looked at all the possibilities—today, tomorrow, Thursday and even Friday. Frankly, it is obvious that at this stage none of them will be very convenient. Today, there is a considerable amount of business to be done before we reach the Orders of the Day. The Motion in the name of the right hon. Gentleman was tabled last night and I should have thought that there should be a business statement before the House is invited to consider it. Taking all these matters into consideration, and with a fairly difficult choice, I think that the solution which I have put to the House is the best.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that tomorrow there is not merely a debate on the Adjournment on foreign affairs, but also the Motion for the Christmas Recess? It is now almost a tradition of the House that some little time is devoted to discussing that Motion. If we add together the time which will be taken by those two Motions, will not it make very ineffective the foreign affairs debate which, I think, there was virtually a unanimous decision that we should have? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind what was said yesterday about consultations through the usual channels that produced most unsatisfactory results? So far as I am concerned the "usual channels" have been dammed for quite a long time, and apparently are not allowed to flow in the right direction.

Mr. Macleod

I sympathise with the hon. Member. I have had all those considerations in mind. There is even more business today, as I have said. As I understand, the Opposition, although they wish to raise a number of points on the way in which, the Swiss Loan Agreement has been presented, are not necessarily against the content of the Agreement itself. That being so, I hope that we shall be able to dispose of it in a reasonably short time.

Mr. Gaitskell

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that although there is other business today, the debate tomorrow is of far greater importance and much more urgent than the debate which is to take place later today in Committee on the Army Reserve Bill. Would not it have been far more satisfactory to the House to have had the debate on the Agreement today?

Mr. Macleod

I am sorry, but the Leader of the Opposition and myself must agree to differ on that. I really have looked at all the possibilities and I believe that in all the circumstances what I have put to the House is the best.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

To assist hon. Members, can my right hon. Friend say how he thinks the time will be allocated? First, there is the Motion on the Christmas Recess. That may take an hour—[HON. MEMBERS: "Or more."] Then there is the Motion on the Order Paper put down by the Leader of the Opposition regarding the Swiss Loan Agreement. I cannot believe that that will be dropped after half an hour. Are we to get to the foreign affairs debate only at seven o'clock?

Mr. Macleod

As my noble Friend will be aware, I do not allocate time for these Motions. It will be for the House to decide—subject to the Standing Orders, and so on—how long they wish to spend on each of these matters.

Mr. Mellish

May I ask the Leader of the House to look at the business today on the Army Reserve Bill which, I suggest with respect, is not a matter of great urgency. The Secretary of State for War is on record as saying that it is unlikely that we may ever need to use the powers contained in that Bill. As the Leader of the House will know, it is not likely that the Committee stage will be completed. Surely it could be left over until the new year.

Mr. Macleod

The Army Reserve Bill is, of course, a matter of great importance. If affects very many people and it is highly desirable that much of the uncertainty in the minds of the young men who will be affected by it should be removed as soon as possible.

Mr. Paget

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is an important difficulty regarding the Army Reserve Bill today in that the Government have made a mess of their Money Resolution so that the proceedings today will have to oven, I understand, by the Government moving to ask leave to report Progress?

That being the situation and since the muddle which has been made over the Money Resolution affects Amendments and the rights of hon. Members to put clown Amendments—indeed, it has excluded a number of Amendments which the right hon. Gentleman's own supporters wished to put down—is not there everything to be said for putting back a Bill which certainly cannot, in any event, be completed today?

Would not this allow some back bench Members to speak during the foreign affairs debate tomorrow? Under the present arrangement none of them will be able to take part.

Mr. Macleod

If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War does wish to make an explanation of the nature which the hon. and learned Member has indicated, and seeks to move an appropriate Motion, what the hon. and learned Member has said will be relevant at that stage.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on with our business. The Prime Minister.