HC Deb 26 January 1961 vol 633 cc343-52
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, 30TH JANUARY—A debate will take place on Reorganisation of the Nationalised Transport Undertakings, which will arise on a Government Motion to approve the proposals contained in the recent White Paper (Command 1248).

TUESDAY, 31ST JANUARY—Second Reading of the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill, and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

Consideration of the Motion to approve the White Fish Industry (Aggregate Amount of Grants for Fishing Vessels, etc.) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 1ST FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Hyde Park (Underground Parking) Bill.

Report and Third Reading of the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Bill.

Committee and remaining stages of the Agricultural Research etc. (Pensions) Bill.

THURSDAY, 2ND FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Army and Air Force Bill.

Committee and remaining stages of the Overseas Service Bill; and of the Diplomatic Immunities (Conferences with Commonwealth Countries and Republic of Ireland) Bill.

FRIDAY, 3RD FEBRUARY—Consideration of Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 6TH FEBRUARY—The proposed business will be a debate on the Economic Situation.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I, first, ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government will find time for a second day for the debate on the economic situation? Secondly, when do the Government expect to announce their attitude to an inquiry into the Press, which was approved unanimously by this House on 2nd December? In view of the news this morning of the Thomson-Odhams merger, although, happily, this does not involve the closure of any newspapers, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that this fresh evidence of the concentration of power in the British Press merits a much more urgent attitude to the question of an inquiry?

Mr. Butler

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's first question, there will be difficulty in finding time, but by all means let us discuss the question of the time taken by the economic debate.

On the second issue, which is clearly an important one, there are Questions to my right hon. Friend next week and I suggest, without prejudice to any conclusion, that we await the answers to those Questions.

Mr. S. Silverman

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions on business? The first relates to the Motion which has stood on the Order Paper for a very long time and which we discussed during the debate on the Motion to adjourn for the Christmas Recess?

[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.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman hold out any hope whatever of ever finding any time to discuss this Motion? If the answer is "No", would it not be better to say so frankly to the House now? Then we shall all know where we are.

My second question arises out of Questions Nos. 81, 82 and 83 on the Order Paper today, which relate to the case of Timothy John Evans. The first two Questions ask for a further inquiry into that case and the third, my own Question, asks for the grant posthumously of a free pardon. In view of the wide public interest and anxiety arising out of the exceptional circumstances of this case, will the right hon. Gentleman take an early opportunity, perhaps today, with Mr. Speaker's permission, to give us an answer on these Questions?

Mr. Butler

On the second point raised by the hon. Member, I do not think that it would be in order for me at this stage to open the question of answering Questions Nos. 81 to 83. I have, of course, distributed an Answer in the usual manner and I am sorry that the Questions were not reached at Question Time. I think that we had better leave the matter as it stands for the time being.

In answer to the hon. Member's first question, I never use the word "never", because that is not wise in human relationships or in the conduct of Parliamentary business. It would, however, be difficult to find time to raise the issues 'contained in that Motion.

Mr. Silverman

Will not the right hon. Gentleman give us a more specific answer? It is all very well to say that he never uses the word "never", but sometimes the difference between never and the remote unanticipated future is so narrow as not to be worth drawing.

Sir H. Nicholls

May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that there would be considerable support from this side of the House for an extra day for the economic debate? During the Recess many of us who have contact with industry have felt the apprehension there, not for the present but certainly for the future potential of our industries. It would be a pity if 'the debate were limited by those apprehensions not being expressed in the debate.

Mr. Butler

In the discussions, which the Leader of the Opposition envisaged and to which I agreed, on this matter, we will certainly take soundings from my hon. Friend and other hon. Members.

Mr. Wigg

The right hon. Gentleman will doubtless recollect that on 3rd November he was kind enough to give the House an assurance that when the Army and Air Force Bill came before the House the undertaking given by the then Leader of the House on 17th March, 1955, would be honoured, namely, that it would be referred to a Select Committee. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to say whether it is the intention of the Government, having got the Second Reading of the Bill, to refer it to a Select Committee and whether the Bill will then came back to a Committee of the whole House? Further, will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to give the House an assurance that the procedures which operated with the previous Select Committee—namely, that there was a Departmental Committee sitting in parallel—will operate on this occasion?

Mr. Butler

I shall want to look into the latter point. In general, however, it is our intention to fulfil the undertaking given by my predecessor as Leader of the House and to follow the procedure outlined by the hon. Member.

Dame Irene Ward

On Monday's business, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that, having regard to the complexity of the White Paper, there is a feeling that we ought to have another day so that the shipping, shipbuilding and ship-repairing industries should have a proper place in the discussion? Will my right hon. Friend, therefore, discuss through the usual channels whether we can have a day for this very important matter in view of the fact that a great many people think that the Minister of Transport is more concerned with railways and roads than he is with the needs of the country as a maritime Power?

Mr. Butler

I could not accept the last part of my hon. Friend's suggestion, nor, I am afraid, can we find extra time for this day. That does not mean that I underestimate the importance of the shipping industry.

Miss Herbison

Will the Leader of the House find time at an early date for a debate on the recommendations of the Guest Committee, since this has interested many Scottish people and has engendered much opposition? Scottish people are continually asking when we shall debate it.

Mr. Butler

I should have to inquire whether there would be time to consider this matter in the Scottish Grand Committee.

Mr. C. Osborne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since 1st December there have been over 50 murders and that as a consequence there is mounting feeling outside this House that the death penalty should apply to all people of sound mind who commit these awful murders? In view of public opinion on this issue, will my right hon. Friend find time so that the question shall be discussed fully in the House at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Butler

Nobody occupying my position, or, indeed, any other position of authority, could possibly underestimate the public anxiety on this score. I cannot at the moment say when there might be time, but this House usually finds its own way of discussing the things it wants.

Mr. de Freitas

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the White Paper on Agriculture, published before Christmas, has not yet been debated in this House, although it envisages continuing the annual subsidy of £260 million? In fairness to the agricultural community and to the other taxpayers, when will the Government provide time to examine this policy in the House of Commons, to see whether we get value for money?

Mr. Butler

I shall have to discuss this with my right hon. Friends principally concerned, but for the present all I know is that this White Paper has been very well accepted by the agricultural community and, as far as I know, by the country.

Sir L. Plummer

Reverting to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the proposed merger of the Thomson and Odhams newspapers, will the right hon. Gentleman, when considering any statement he will make, consult his colleagues about the commercial television licences involved? One of them was given to the News Chronicle and the other to Mr. Thomson through his Scottish newspapers. Television licences are being hawked around as counters in a deal. Was that the intention of the Government? If not, will there be a statement by the Government about their intentions for the future?

Mr. Butler

This is one of the matters which will have to be taken into consideration before further Government statements are made. Those statements are more likely to be made, in this case, by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with whom the matter has already been discussed.

Mr. Mayhew

May we then take it that an early statement will be made on this subject, perhaps next week? This is an urgent and important subject and merely to state that one or two Questions are down for next week—Questions which may or may not be reached at Question Time—is a totally inadequate answer to the wishes of hon. Members on this side of the House.

Mr. Butler

I must say that the news of this merger came as a considerable surprise to many of us. We need a little time to consider its implications, which are very profound. It is perfectly reasonable to give the Government time until next week before making a further statement. The hon. Member himself has a Question down on this subject, and it has already been in the mind of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is not so much the merger itself but the circumstances which led up to it which give rise to anxiety? Will he bear that in mind in any statement that is made?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. I will bring the right hon. Gentleman's view to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Lipton

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time, despite the unwillingness of its many signatories to press the matter, to deal with the Motion on the Order Paper dealing with free drugs for private patients? In view of the serious charges of breach of faith by the Government made by many of his hon. Friends, the question should be discussed here and not sidestepped in another place.

[That this House is of the opinion that private patients should be enabled to obtain their medicines and drugs on the same terms and conditions as National Health Service patients; and urges Her Majesty's Government to introduce the necessary legislation without further delay.]

Mr. Butler

We have had a certain amount of consideration of this matter in the House, and no doubt we shall have to consider it again.

Sir B. Janner

Will the right hon. Gentleman say when he proposes to implement his promise to find time for a debate on the Albemarle Report? Is it likely to be discussed at some near time in the future?

Mr. Butler

I will note the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Donnelly

May I revert to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) about the Motion on capital punishment? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my hon. Friend is merely asking for the intentions of the Government in this matter to be made clear? The right hon. Gentleman is being less than fair to the House on what is a very serious matter in refusing so far to make matters clear.

Mr. Butler

I am aware of the object of the hon. Member for Nelson and Come (Mr. S. Silverman). have told the House that I see difficulty in finding time for the Motion. Whether these issues will be raised in any other form I do not know, but I do see difficulty in finding time.

Sir B. Janner

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his notebook must be very full already in noting what I have asked him to do about the Albemarle Report? Before the Christmas Recess he promised that we would have an early debate on it. What does he intend to do? This is a very important matter and the House should have an opportunity to discuss it

Mr. Butler

I was not aware of any specific undertaking about a debate. I should like the Report to be discussed, because it is a very interesting subject, but it is a question of finding time.

Mr. M. Foot

In saying that he finds difficulty in finding time for the discussion on capital punishment, does the right hon. Gentleman mean what he is saying, or does he mean that he is doing his best to prevent discussion on this matter? He said earlier that the House usually finds time to discuss something which it wants to discuss. Therefore, if the House does find time to discuss this matter, will he appear to answer for the Government?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. The Home Secretary will always appear when it is his duty to answer.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for raising this with you, but I think the House may be able to have assistance from you in this matter. There is an important constitutional principle at stake and we would like any help which you can give us in dealing with what has become an anomalous situation.

It is, I think, common ground that the I-Tome Secretary, in advising the Crown about the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy, at any rate after the event, remains responsible to the House of Commons. Responsibility to the House of Commons means being answerable to the House of Commons, making an answer to the House of Commons, hearing what it has to say, listening to its questions and offering explanations.

If there is no opportunity to do that, if no time is found, then the constitutional responsibility of the Home Secretary to the House of Commons is stultified and the constitutional principle involved is frustrated. Can you, Sir, help in solving the question of how the House of Commons is to find time in which it can hold the Home Secretary to his constitutional responsibility to the House for the advice he gives? In view of the right hon. Gentleman's pessimism about finding time in the future, it looks as if grave inroads are being made on the constitutional privilege involved.

Mr. C. Osborne

Give a Supply day.

Mr. Speaker

I listened to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) with care, but I am unable to think that any matter arises there for me as a point of order. The fact is that the House controls its own business, according some of it to private Members and some of it to the Opposition, and so forth.—It is not a matter for the Chair to do that and I do not think that I can help the hon. Gentleman in this case.