HC Deb 02 March 1961 vol 635 cc1752-61
Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will 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, 6TH MARCH—We find it necessary to ask the House to consider a timetable Motion for the National Health Service Contributions Bill and for the National Health Service Bill. which is before a Standing Committee.

The terms of the Motion will appear on the Order Paper tomorrow morning.

TUESDAY, 7TH MARCH—Supply [7th Allotted Day]: Army Estimates, 1961–62, will be considered in Committee on Vote A.

WEDNESDAY, 8TH MARCH—Supply 8th Allotted Day]: Air Estimates, 1961–62. will be considered in Committee on Vote A.

THURSDAY, 9TH MARCH—We shall consider further the National Health Service Contributions Bill.

Consideration of the Motions to approve the Police Pensions (Amendment) Regulations, and similar Regulations for Scotland.

FRIDAY, 10TH MARCH—Consideration of Private Members' Bills.

We propose to suspend the Ten o'clock Rule for two hours on Tuesday for the Army Estimates and on Wednesday for the Air Estimates, as indeed, is our proposal today in relation to the Navy Estimates.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Leader of the House aware that the introduction of a timetable Motion, a Guillotine, to suppress debate on the National Health Service Contributions Bill and the National Health Service Bill is, in our view, indefensible, that these Bills are against the public interest, that they are very short Bills on which, one would have supposed, any reasonable Government could find time for adequate discussion, and that we consider this to be absolutely unjustifiable merely because Tory Members are unable, or unwilling, to stay up late at night?

Mr. Butler

When the right hon. Gentleman and the House have an opportunity of studying the Motion on the Order Paper, they will see that it is deliberately drawn so as to give ample opportunity for all points of view to be put at a proper time of day and for proper consideration. That will apply not only to the National Health Service Contributions Bill, but to the Bill which is in Standing Committee. There are many precedents for action of this sort. In view of the time which has been taken up on these Bills, which the Government regard as a necessary part of their programme, this is a perfectly legitimate action, with very respectable precedents provided by Governments formed by hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Gaitskell

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is a precedent for such a very short Bill as this being guillotined? Can he suggest any occasion when a Bill of this kind has been guillotined in the middle of its process, either in Standing Committee or in this House? Can he say why, if in his view he is giving us ample time for discussing it, he needs to have a Guillotine Motion at all?

Mr. Butler

It was the wish of the Government to reach an agreement on the future time for these Bills. Contact was made with the right hon. Gentleman and the Opposition, but it was found impossible to reach agreement, no doubt for perfectly honourable reasons. I am quite satisfied that the course we are now proposing is more in the interests of the future passage of these Bills than anything else, except an agreement, and, as we cannot get a reasonable agreement, we are proposing a reasonable time in which they can be considered.

Mr. Gaitskell

It is not the business of the Opposition to reach agreement for facilitating Government business which, in our view, is extremely unpopular and quite unjustifiable as a matter of policy. None of this business justifies the introduction of the Guillotine.

Mr. Butler

The Opposition are quite at liberty to make an agreement or not as they wish. That is a matter which is perfectly honourable between both sides, but, in looking to the future, I am perfectly satisfied that the course that we are recommending is both fair and reasonable in the public interest.

Mr. Wilkins

Can the Leader of the House give us one valid reason why a Guillotine should be imposed on the Bill which is now in Standing Committee A? Has he been made aware by the Whip in charge of the Government benches of the fact that it is Opposition Members of that Committee who have been keeping a quorum, and that for one-and-aquarter hours this morning there were never more than four back bench Tory Members on the benches in that Committee? There is no need for a gag what-ever for Government hon. Members because they have been made tongue-tied for three meetings, and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. No doubt we can argue all those sort of things when the Guillotine Motion comes before us. but we are now on business.

Mr. Wilkins

On a point of order. Should not the Leader of the House give a reply to my question, Sir?

Mr. Speaker

With no discourtesy to the hon. Member, I thought that that was all proper for discussion and answer by the appropriate Minister when we debate the proposed Motion.

Dame Irene Ward

Has my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House observed a Motion in my name on the question of a nuclear-powered ship?

[That, in view of Press disclosures of Her Majesty's Government's plans for the building of a nuclear powered ship, a full statement on the matter should be made by Her Majesty's Government without delay.]

As it appeared that a disclosure of information had been made, if we cannot prevent leaks could we have a full statement on the matter by setting aside a day for discussing the whole problem of shipbuilding, shipping and ship-repairing? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that this is very necessary, as I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree? Would it not be possible for the Government to set aside a day for their own supporters to discuss things in which we are interested?

Mr. Butler

I should always like to satisfy my hon. Friend, but we have a very busy time now in Supply. While I shall discuss this with my right hon. Friends principally concerned, I must remind the House that the business of Supply takes up a great deal of our time at this time of the year.

Mr. K. Robinson

Reverting to Monday's business and the timetable Motion, may I ask the Leader of the House how he can possibly justify such a Motion in respect of the National Health Service Bill, which has been in Standing Committee for three sittings and on which the Government never once moved the Closure?

Mr. Butler

I read the introductory remarks of the hon. Member in the Standing Committee. The Bill is an urgent one. There are a great many Amendments to the Bill on the Notice Paper and without this procedure I foresee an indefinite process in discussing the Bill.

Mr. Nabarro

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the House will rise for the Easter Recess on 30th March and resume on Tuesday. 11th April, and that that day will be Budget day?

Mr. Butler

My hon. Friend knows a great deal more than I do. When the time comes we shall make the necessary arrangements and announcements about our business.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does the Leader of the House realise that he is playing cat and mouse with white fish and herring and that is a very unsavoury game to play with one of Britain's major industries? Why did he withdraw that Bill last night? When does he propose to reinstate it on the Order Paper?

Mr. Butler

The cat, in the shape of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), made a fine broadcast and, certainly, he was not kept up all night, but I think that I ought to give the House the reasons why we did not proceed with that Bill. They were twofold. First, we overestimated the time which we thought the Instructions on the British Transport Commission Bill would take last night, for which we moved the suspension Motion.

The second was that we discovered that the Financial Resolution—[HON. MEMBERS: "Another mistake?"]—was not wide enough to cope with Clause 3 (2) of the Bill. We shall, therefore, be laying a new Financial Resolution. [HON. MEMBERS: "oh."] I thought it right to tell the House the exact position. I cannot give the date for this, but we shall lay a new Financial Resolution which will have to go through the normal procedure.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Is not what the right hon. Gentleman said about the white fish and herring industries a disgraceful way to treat one of Britain's major industries, on which tens of thousands of our people all round the coast of Britain depend? Why not restore the Bill to the Order Paper for next week's business?

Mr. Butler

It is precisely because we wanted the Financial Resolution to be quite wide enough before we entered into further debate that we decided on this procedure.

Mr. Gaitskell

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether that means that the whole of the Committee stage of the Bill has to be started afresh? If so, will he give us an assurance that he will not introduce a Guillotine Motion for the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill?

Mr. Butler

I am informed by the authorities that it will not be necessary to take the whole of the Committee stage of the Bill again. It will be necessary to take the Financial Resolution through its stages again. It will have to be relaid, and reconsidered by the House. That is the position.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he is being fair to the House over the business on next Tuesday and Wednesday, when he is proposing only a two-hour extension? Does he not realise that on those two days we shall be discussing Estimates exceeding £1,000 million, and that more time should be given, so that anyone who has a contribution to make may make it? Will not he consider allowing all the time necessary for debating these two important Estimates?

Mr. Butler

We have thought about this very carefully. It is according to precedent in recent years to extend for two hours, and we think that that is reasonable.

Mr. McMaster

In support of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will consider finding time for a Motion, standing in the names of many hon. Members for Ulster and other hon. Members representing other parts of the United Kingdom, asking for a debate on the shipbuilding industry, in view of the grave unemployment amongst those working in the industry?

[That this House notes with very grave concern the serious problems facing the British shipbuilding industry, and urges Her Majesty's Government to take all possible steps to remedy the situation.]

Mr. Butler

I can only give the same answer, which is that I will give the matter consideration.

Mr. Marquand

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to a Motion, in the name of more than 50 right hon. and hon. Gentlemen and myself, concerning a Commonwealth Convention of Human Rights? Is he aware that this is a constructive proposal, designed to strengthen the Commonwealth and raise its standing in the eyes of the world?

As the right hon. Gentleman has not announced any prospective business for Monday, 13th March, does he not think that this would be a very appropriate subject to debate on that day?

[That this House, recalling the solemn obligation undertaken by the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries to co-operate with the United Nations by joint and separate action in promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of race; welcoming the accession by Her Majesty's Government of the European Convention of Human Rights and its application to Crown colonies and protectorates; noting that provision for the protection of human rights has been made in the constitutions of Commonwealth countries which have recently become independent; and recognising that the Commonwealth cannot endure unless all its members recognise and guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms irrespective of race, colour, sex or creed, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to invite all member-countries of the Commonwealth to join with the United Kingdom in making at the forthcoming Conference of Prime Ministers a Commonwealth Declaration of Human Rights so that all citizens of the Commonwealth, wherever residing, may be assured of the enjoyment of those fundamental rights and of protection against any infringement of the same.]

Mr. Butler

We have to pay attention to the needs of Supply at this time of year. While I do not underestimate the importance of the Motion, which I have read, I cannot go further now.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

In view of the great interest that has been aroused on both sides of the House in the last few weeks by the working of the Homicide Act, and in view of the Motion standing in the names of myself and many other hon. Members, calling for its amendment, can my right hon. Friend say whether there is likely to be a debate on the subject before Easter?

[That this House is of the opinion that the Homicide Act, 1957, should immediately be amended so that the courts may have the power to impose the death penalty on those guilty of murder while making a sexual attack.]

Mr. Butler

It would be extremely difficult to find the time, although I have always said that I think it an important subject.

Mrs. White

Can the Leader of the House tell us what business he proposes to take on Monday, 13th March?

Mr. Butler

It will be announced in due course.

Mr. Ross

May I put to the right hon. Gentleman a fairly reasonable suggestion? Will he suspend the rule on Monday?

Mr. Butler

That will have to be under consideration.

Mr. Grimond

As it seems from what the Prime Minister said earlier that what the Lord Privy Seal said about the Common Market does not mean exactly what I think it meant, may we have a debate, so that the Government's intentions about the Common Market can be explained?

Mr. Butler

I think that the Prime Minister made the situation quite clear. I can only undertake to consider what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Wigg

Would the Leader of the House be good enough to look again in the precedents governing debates on the Service Estimates? I think that he will find that two years ago there were two-hour suspensions for both the Navy and the Air Force debates and unlimited suspension in the case of the Army.

Whilst it would not be reasonable, in the present state of business of the House, to have an open suspension for the Army Estimates this year, in view of the large numbers on both sides of the House who want to speak would he not consider giving us an extra hour on Tuesday night and, in future years, be prepared to consider the very special position of the Army in view of the rights that the House has given up in revising its ancient procedure?

Mr. Butler

The hon. Member's point is put in perfectly reasonable terms, but I must adhere to what we said about a two-hour suspension. I will investigate the precedents to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention, and perhaps he will have a talk with me on the subject.

Mr. G. Thomas

In view of the very restricted discussion we were able to have yesterday under the Ten Minute Rule on the question of leasehold, will the Leader of the House give further consideration to the Motion on Leasehold Reform in South Wales. which is of major importance in the Principality, and give us a day on which both his hon. Friends and mine can put their points of view?

[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 grant- ing to leaseholders the right to purchase their freehold at a fair and reasonable cost.]

Mr. Butler

I have very few days to spare.

Mr. Thorpe

Can we know the right hon. Gentleman's intentions with regard to the Motion on Northern Rhodesia, signed by 99 of his colleagues? Is he aware that despite the excellent speech made by the Colonial Secretary last week, only 12 hon. Members on the Conservative side have so far withdrawn their names from that Motion? Is it intended that time will not be given, so as to keep quiet the somewhat more violent members of his party, or is it intended that time shall be given so that the Colonial Secretary can learn that he has support in some quarters of the House, particularly on this side, if not on the other?

[That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government in considering the constitutional future of Northern Rhodesia to maintain the basis of non-racial representation, laid down by Her Majesty's Government in 1958, within the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.]

Mr. Butler

I am not aware that I have had particular pressure put on me to find time.

Mr. V. Yates

To return to the question of time for the Army Estimates, will the Leader of the House look at the precedents again? He has been talking about recent precedents, but it is an age-old custom of the House to have unlimited time to consider Estimates. Whatever may be said about limiting the time for debate on other Estimates, there can be no justification for limiting these debates as they have been limited in the last two or three years. Even if the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to give an unlimited amount of time, surely it cannot be said that an extra two hours gives sufficient time for the discussion of this subject. I appeal to the Leader of the House to consider the feeling that there is on this matter.

Mr. Butler

In 1955, by general agreement, there was a limited suspension. In 1956-57, there was no suspension. It was done by agreement. I am perfectly ready to discuss the subject with the hon. Member as well as with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), but I think that this year we had better stick to this plan.

Mr. Rankin

The right hon. Gentleman has already promised the Scottish Standing Committee a debate on the Guest Report. Has he anything further to say about this promise?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir, not today.

Mr. J. Wells

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his announcement last week concerning the Motion on decimal coinage, in view of the fact that about 40 additional names have been put to that Motion in the last week?

[That this House calls attention to the need for decimal coinage, recognises the increasing and once-for-all cost of the change, notes the number of Commonwealth countries which have changed. or are changing, believes it to be a practical business decision, and urges Her Majesty's Government to introduce a decimal system of coinage at an early date.]

Mr. Butler

It might be a rather restful subject to discuss, but I do not see the chance at the moment.

Mr. Gaitskell

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, whatever may have happened in the past, there was no agreement whatever this year as to the length of the debates on the Army and other Service Estimates?

Mr. Butler

I do confirm that, of course. The decision was the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Rankin

May I again remind the right hon. Gentleman of his promise about a debate on the Guest Report? Does he enter into promises as lightly as he dismisses them?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir, not as a usual practice.