HC Deb 09 February 1961 vol 634 cc633-41
Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

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

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

MONDAY, 13TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Crown Estate Bill, which it is hoped to obtain by about seven o'clock.

Afterwards, Committee and remaining stages of the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill.

Consideration of the Motion to approve the Eggs (Protection of Guarantees) (Amendment) Order.

TUESDAY, 14TH FEBRUARY—Supply [4th Allotted Day]:

Motion to move Mr. Speaker out of the Chair, when a debate will arise on an Amendment to take note of the Reports from the Estimates Committee relating to Admiralty Headquarters Organisation, until about half-past seven o'clock.

Afterwards, a debate on the Reports from the Estimates Committee relating to Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments.

This is the second of the three days to be set apart for the consideration of Reports from the Estimates Committee and the Public Accounts Committee.

WEDNESDAY, 15TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the National Health Service Contributions Bill.

THURSDAY, 16TH FEBRUARY—It is proposed to afford an opportunity for a debate on the Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), relating to a Ruling by Mr. Speaker, until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, we shall proceed with a discussion of the Opposition Prayers relating to National Health Service Charges for Prescriptions and Pay-Beds.

FRIDAY, 17TH FEBRUARY—Consideration of Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 20TH FEBRUARY—The proposed business will be Supply [5th Allotted Day]:

Committee stage of the Civil Estimates and Estimates for Revenue Departments Vote on Account, 1961–62.

A debate will take place on Fuel and Power.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we cannot properly consider the business for next week, particularly the proposed business for next Wednesday, without taking into account the closing stages of yesterday's business?

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall raise, on a point of order later, a question about our Votes and Proceedings as recorded, with which we do not agree. Meanwhile, I would like to ask the Leader of the House, who was, I know, not here during those closing stages, hut who was yet very concerned with what happened, whether he has not a statement to make on this matter.

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. I have no statement to make, except to say that there will be ample time for consideration of this Measure at its later stages following upon the Second Reading on Wednesday. We have already agreed to take the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House.

There should be ample time for Members who are sincerely concerned by its provisions to debate it fully on the Floor of the House and not upstairs in Standing Committee. That will certainly be the objective of the Government.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, however, that we are not satisfied that the Ways and Means Resolution was, in fact, carried last night? Is he also aware that, if that is the case, it will not be in order to take the Second Reading of the Bill next Wednesday?

Is he further aware that we consider the conduct of the Government Chief Whip—the Patronage Secretary—in moving the Closure when the Minister had been called upon to speak but had not done so, and when a large number of Members wished to speak, was quite deplorable?

Is he aware that in our opinion the Chairman of Ways and Means was quite wrong in accepting the Closure Motion on that occasion?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition may not say that on this question.

Hon. Members


Mr. Gaitskell

I have not been asked to withdraw. May I ask the Leader of the House whether he has had discussions with the Chairman of Ways and Means on this matter, and, if so, what the outcome was?

Mr. Butler

The first matter referred to by the right hon. Gentleman is one on which we must search the Journal of the House, and it is a question which, I think, should be addressed to Mr. Speaker.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's question about the Patronage Secretary, I can only say that my right hon. Friend has the Government's support and that I have no more observations to make about him.

The right hon. Gentleman's third point is also one not to be addressed to me. I cannot reply for the Chairman of Ways and Means. This is a matter which must be left to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his contact with the Chair.

As for the general issue, I am sure that it will be the wish of the House that we should proceed in an orderly manner with our business. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Equally, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to give ample time for the consideration of the Bill, upon which there is great feeling, in its later stages.

Mr. Gaitskell

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes business to proceed in an orderly manner, he must give the Opposition time to voice their criticisms and not attempt to gag us in the way in which we were gagged last night.

May I ask him again, how it was that he was not present on this important occasion? Is he aware that I have sufficient respect for him as Leader of the House to believe that had he been here the Closure would never have been moved? May I ask, once again, what was the outcome of his consultations with the Chairman of Ways and Means?

Mr. Butler

I have no answer to make to the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, because I do not think I can answer for the Chairman of Ways and Means on the Floor of the House.

I am sorry that I was not here. I arrived too late. I have been here on almost every occasion when there has been trouble in the five years that I have been Leader of the House. I shall be happy to be here on every future occasion because, strange to relate. I enjoy it.

Whether the matter could have been handled in any different manner, I do not know, but I do know that if Government business is to be got through there is no better person to help it through than my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary.

Mr. Gaitskell

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, which in our opinion is quite unsatisfactory, I wish to make it plain that we shall have no option but to put down a Motion regarding the conduct of the Chairman of Ways and Means last night.

Mr. C. Pannell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Unless the hon Gentleman's point of order is one that necessarily arises now, it might be more convenient if we got back to questions on business and dealt with these other matters afterwards.

Mr. Pannell

My point does arise now, Mr. Speaker. As I understand the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to be suggesting that he was not present last night, can we know, through you, whether it was his double standing behind the Chair?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman, who knows so much about our history, is aware that it was a long time ago that this House first 'banished the Speaker from Committees of the whole House. In the circumstances, I am not in a position to answer his question.

Mr. Pannell

I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. You misunderstood me. I was not speaking about your double, but about the Leader of the House's double.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman misunderstood me.

Mr. G. Thomas

Has the Leader of the House seen the Motion on leasehold reform in South Wales which stands upon the Order Paper? In view of the extreme urgency for some action to be taken to protect householders from the finance corporations there, will he give time for a debate on this Motion, which has now been signed by more than 70 hon. Members?

[That this House, noting with deep disquiet the cruel exploitation of leaseholders in South Wales by finance corporations and ground landlords who are demanding excessive premiums before renewing leases for a period of 80 years, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to repeal the Act of 1954 dealing with the leasehold system and to introduce a measure granting to leaseholders the right to purchase their freehold at a fair and reasonable cost.]

Mr. Butler

I will discuss it with my right hon. Friend principally concerned.

Mr. Nabarro

Does my right hon. Friend recall that last Thursday I asked him for a debate on the effects of the Homicide Act, 1957? Since then, there have been two events: a Motion by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and some of his hon. Friends, which is to be debated next Thursday: [That this House respectfully regrets and unhesitatingly dissents from the ruling given by Mr. Speaker that a question sought to be put down by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne asking the Secretary of State for the Home Department to order an inquiry into whether a miscarriage of justice had occurred in the case of George Riley was not in order; and expresses the view that this ruling is not in accordance with the precedents and practice of this House and imposes new, unnecessary and undesirable limitations on the ability of hon. Members to discharge their public duties.]

and a further Motion by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) and others of my hon. Friends:

[That this House is of the opinion that the Barry Committee should immediately be asked to consider the value of the death penalty in preventing murder and protecting society, with a view to the repeal or amendment of section five of the Homicide Act, 1957.]

Could my right hon. Friend give an assurance that next Thursday's debate, which is on a procedural matter most largely, will not prejudice in any way the earnest consideration that he has undertaken to give at an early date to a debate on the effects of the Homicide Act?

Mr. Butler

We must keep Thursday's debate to the procedural question which is involved in the Motion in the name of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), but that does not prejudice, in any way, the serious issues to which reference was made last week, and which have been repeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) this week.

Mr. V. Yates

May I ask a question about next Thursday's business, which is to begin with a debate on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)? As the right hon. Gentleman has told us that he is now anxious, especially after last night's proceedings, that we shall have adequate time, does he really consider that a debate timed to take from four o'clock to seven o'clock is adequate on a matter which affects every hon. Member of this House, who may have been, as I have, in the same position as my hon. Friend—precluded from having the right to bring information to this House which might have an effect on the life of an individual?

Mr. Butler

We have seriously considered this matter. We put it down as the first Order of the Day and thought that that was a suitable time to give hon. Members an opportunity of airing this important question if they wish to do so.

Mr. Gardner

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the substantial and strong conviction in this House that the present law, which distinguishes quite artificially and arbitrarily between capital and noncapital murder, is indefensible and that the majority of people in the country are completely out of patience with that part of the law? Will not he agree that there is a need for an inquiry into the value of the death penalty?

Mr. Speaker

This is the time for questions on business.

Mr. Gardner

May I refer my right hon. Friend to Motion No. 52 on the Order Paper mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) just now and ask him whether he will give time for a debate?

Mr. Butler

I cannot answer a question on merit at business time, but I have already said that if there is an opportunity there will be a debate. With the press of business before us, I cannot see that there will be such an opportunity in the immediate future.

Mr. S. Silverman

While gratefully acknowledging the right hon. Gentleman's co-operation in finding time next Thursday for the Motion in my name, and expressing my own opinion, for what it is worth, that it might be adequately discussed in the time allotted by him to it, may I draw his attention to the fact that there is another Motion on the Order Paper, and has been for a long time? Whereas the Motion on Thursday, in form only, is a Motion of censure on Mr. Speaker, the Motion of censure on the right hon. Gentleman is not a matter of form, but a matter of substance.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that every new decision he makes and leaves unexplained increases the anxiety and distress in the country about this whole matter? Will he not treat the Motion of censure on himself at least as seriously as he has treated that on Mr. Speaker?

[That this House places on record its profound regret that the Secretary of State for the Home Department failed to advise Her Majesty the Queen to exercise Her Royal Prerogative of mercy in the cases of Francis Forsyth and Norman Harris, the first of whom was only a month or two over eighteen years of age and the other twenty-three years of age, both of whom were said by the learned counsel who prosecuted them to have had no intention to kill, and one of whom, namely, Norman Harris, was admitted to have struck no blow and was not present when any fatal act of violence was committed.]

Mr. Butler

I have said that we will have difficulty in finding time for the hon. Gentleman's second Motion. We certainly must take the Motion relating to Mr. Speaker at the earliest possible opportunity. I think that we had better do one thing at a time.

Mr. Jay

Would the Leader of the House agree that the business of next week is more likely to be conducted in accordance with the established rules and traditions of the House if the Government would appoint a new Chief Whip?

Mr. Butler

The answer to that is "No, Sir".

Mr. W. Hamilton

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what has been the result of his discussions with the Secretary of State for Scotland concerning a separate Health Service debate in the Scottish Grand Committee, where we could have a nice, quiet, pleasant morning?

I am not sure whether my next point comes into business. It relates to something that occurred last night: and is likely to occur again tonight. At the end of proceedings this morning, at a rather interesting point, several hon. Members retired to the Tea Room for refreshment—not having taken any since about eight o'clock in the evening—and, after a quarter of an hour, discovered that the place was closed, to the distress of many hon. Members who were here until four or five o'clock this morning. Can the right hon. Gentleman make representations in the appropriate quarter to see that this situation is remedied?

Mr. Butler

I will certainly have to see that the latter situation is dealt with by those primarily responsible. I will make it my duty to pass on the hon Member's trouble. It is lucky that we did not sit any later, or it might have been worse.

The answer to the first part of the hon. Member's question is that I have had an amicable conversation with my right hon. Friend, but that, so far, I have not been able to wring from him the concession which the hon. Member desires. Perhaps he would keep in touch with me.

Mr. Stonehouse

May I ask the Leader of the House whether, in view of the importance of these questions and the need to consult the opinion of the House, he can arrange a debate on the issues to be raised at the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference?

Mr. Butler

I will discuss that with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.