HC Deb 09 March 1961 vol 636 cc682-94
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, 13TH MARCH—Conclusion of the Committee stage of the National Health Service Contributions Bill [2nd, Allotted Day].

TUESDAY, 14TH MARCH—Supply [9th Allotted Day]: Committee.

The Navy, Votes 1, 2, 6, 10, 11 and 14; the Army, Votes 1, 2, 8, 9, 10 and 11; and the Army Supplementary Estimate; and the Air, Votes 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 and 11, and the Air Supplementary Estimate.

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

WEDNESDAY, 15TH MARCH—Supply [10th Allotted Day]: Committee.

Consideration of the following Civil Supplementary Estimates: Class I, Vote 13—Government Hospitality; Class II, Vote 2—Foreign Office Grants and Services relating to the Congo; Class V, Vote 5, National Health Service England and Wales relating to Pharmaceutical Services.

At 9.30 p.m. the Questions will be put from the Chair on the Vote under discussion and on all outstanding Votes, under the provisions of Standing Order No. 16.

Committee stage of the White Fish and Herring Industries [Money] [No. 2] Resolution.

Second Reading of the Crofters (Scotland) Bill and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

THURSDAY, 16TH MARCH—Remaining stages of the National Health Service Contributions Bill [3rd Allotted Day].

FRIDAY, 17TH MARCH—Consideration of private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 20TH MARCH—The proposed business will be: Supply [11th Allotted Day]: Report Stage of the Civil Estimates.

A debate will take place on Housing in England and Wales.

At 9.30 p.m. the Questions will be put from the Chair on the Vote under discussion and on all outstanding Votes, under the provisions of Standing Order No. 16.

It has been decided not to take tonight the Motions to approve the Draft Police Pensions (Amendment) Regulations and the corresponding Regulations for Scotland. The reason is that the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments on the Scottish Regulations has asked for further information and its report is, therefore, delayed. Since I do not think that there will be any dispute as to the desirability of what the Regulations are seeking to achieve, I would hope that it will be possible to take them at an early date.

It may be convenient for me to announce to the House that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget on Monday, 17th April, and that it is proposed to adjourn for the Easter Recess on Thursday, 30th March, until Tuesday, 11th April.

Mr. Gaitskell

The Leader of the House has told us something about the withdrawal of the Police Pensions Regulations. Can he say when the Committee stage of the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill is to be resumed after this long delay?

Also, can he say whether, in view of the extremely important Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference which is taking place now—which, I think, we would all agree, is even more important than most such conferences—the Government will find time for a debate on Commonwealth affairs?

Mr. Butler

We must, first, take the additional Money Resolution in connection with the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill, and then we can proceed with the later stages.

I cannot make any announcement today about a Commonwealth affairs debate, because the Conference is being carried on at this very moment. All I can do is to note the right hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Nabarro

Has the attention of my right hon. Friend been drawn to the Motion on the Order Paper relating to Richard Thomas and Baldwins, in the name of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and 60 of his hon. Friends?

[That this House, deploring the intention of Her Majesty's Government to proceed with the sale of Richard Thomas and Baldwin's, Limited, to private hands, and noting the fine trading figures of this publicly-owned company for the last financial year, in that it made a net profit before taxation of £11,188,733, deeply regrets the additional strain on the management, staff, and work people caused, according to its chairman's statement, by the time and thought that has had to be devoted to work, argument and discussion on possible schemes for divesting the company, and accordingly calls upon Her Majesty's Government to declare forthwith that it will not, within the life of the present Parliament, proceed with its intention to sell this firm.]

Having regard to the conspicuous success of the stock market operations for the denationalisation of steel last week, would it not be appropriate to unblock the usual channels at an early date and arrange for a Supply Day to be devoted to this important Motion, so that I and my hon. Friends may appropriately oppose it?

Mr. Butler

The Opposition may pay attention to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).

Mr. G. Thomas

As the leasehold problem in Wales continues to aggravate the population there, and as the Leader of the House becomes, I am sorry to say, less popular every time he turns me down, will he now realise that this is a very important matter and give the House an opportunity to discuss the Motion on the subject which appears on the Order Paper, signed by 98 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 am sorry to incur even greater odium from the hon. Gentleman, but owing to the Supply period of the year through which we are passing, and the press of business, I cannot give him a favourable answer.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will give some consideration to the procedure which we are getting into the practice of following year by year on the detailed Votes of the three Services? Will he bear in mind that Vote 7 of the Royal Air Force alone involves an expenditure of about £235 million? In view of the great intricacies of some of these Votes. and the real need to have them properly examined by the House in the interests of the taxpayers, will he ensure that at least on a few occasions we may have them not so very much rushed?

Mr. Butler

There is a good deal in what my hon. Friend says, but I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that this position in relation to Votes on Account has been reached—I will not say "by agreement", because the word "agreement" is at the moment out of favour—through a sort of general understanding in the House. [Laughter.] It has come as an accretion of practice by degrees, if I may say so. As that is the case, we certainly can look at it on future occasions, but I think that we must take it as we find it on this occasion.

Mr. T. Fraser

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen on the Order Paper a Motion relating to hydro-electricity in Scotland?

[That this House calls upon the Secretary of State for Scotland to withdraw his declaration that the Glen Nevis Hydro-Electric Scheme will not be finally decided until the report of the Departmental Committee appointed to review the general arrangements for generating and distributing electricity in Scotland is received and considered; requests the Secretary of State to add to the Committee two representatives of organised labour to balance the representatives of employers in industry already appointed; and, being aware of the continuing need for measures calculated to promote economic development and social improvement in the north of Scotland, calls upon the Secretary of State to make clear that there is no intention of withdrawing the powers given to the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board in this regard in the Hydro-Electric Development (Scotland) Act, 1943.]

Mr. Nabarro

I am putting down an amendment to it today.

Mr. Fraser

Will the Leader of the House give the House an opportunity to discuss the Motion, together with the amendment to be moved by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), before the loaded committee of inquiry gets down to considering a recommendation that the Highlands of Scotland shall be preserved as a playground for a handful of rich people?

Mr. Butler

I took the trouble to discuss the terms of the Motion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland this morning, and I have his authority for saying that if the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends wish to discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend they may find that there is not so much difference of opinion between them. Pending such a discussion, I should not be able to guarantee time.

Mr. C. Osborne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at the London docks this morning 1,700 men protested because they could not get jobs and that on Tuesday, in this House, hon. Members from the North-East Coast staged a demonstration against the unemployment in their constituencies? In view of the difficulties about finding jobs which are arising in British industry, will my right hon. Friend find time to introduce legislation to prohibit further immigration and so preserve jobs for the people of this country?

Mr. Butler

The House considered this matter at some length in response to the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. C. Osborne) and it came to no final decision, partly because this was a very difficult subject on which to reach a conclusion in the House. I am able to inform my hon. Friend that the Government have this matter under constant consideration, but I can give no further answer to him.

Mr. Marquand

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a constitutional conference agreed some time ago that Sierra Leone should achieve independence on 27th April? Will he give the House reasonable and ample time to consider the necessary documents and pass the necessary legislation before that date?

Mr. Butler

The Bill which gives effect to this happy development will be laid as soon as convenient and I will bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman says about adequate notice for its consideration.

Mr. John Hall

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the Motion on the Order Paper on the National Health Service charges in my name and in the names of hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That this House is of the opinion that persons of limited means should not be required to apply to the National Assistance Board for the refund of National Health Service charges, but that instead all persons entitled to treatment under the National Health Service whose total net income is below an agreed income tax code number or its equivalent shall, on production of evidence of that income rating, be excused payment of all National Health Service charges.]

In view of the great interest in this question and the need to ensure that people of limited means are not called upon to pay these Health Service charges, can my right hon. Friend find time to debate the subject?

Mr. Butler

I cannot find time extra to that which is being devoted to this subject in the course of the general passage of legislation.

Mr. Hoy

Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland about a Motion on the Order Paper concerning training and employment in Scotland?

[That this House, recognising that the increase in the number of school-leavers in Scotland in 1961 and 1962 will greatly exceed the anticipated net increase in jobs and recognising further that the number of apprenticeships available in recent years has fallen far short of the number of youths offering themselves for apprenticeship training, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take steps immediately to bring about a substantial increase in employment in Scotland, and in particular to take steps to ensure that our most valuable asset, the potential skill of our young people, is not lost to the nation by a failure to provide adequate employment with training for skill.]

This question is very important to our country. Especially following what the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. C. Osborne) has said, does the right hon. Gentleman not propose to give us time to discuss it?

Mr. Butler

I have discussed that and other matters with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I cannot find the time.

Mr. Deedes

My right hon. Friend is aware that legislation is needed in connection with the Cunard subsidy. Does he not agree that invitations to tender should not go too far before the House debates the Bill?

Mr. Butler

I will make a note of what my hon. Friend says, but I cannot give a date.

Mr. Driberg

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether Wednesday is likely to be the only opportunity that we shall have for a debate on the Congo, and, if so, is it not likely to be of a rather restricted character on that day? Can he estimate at all how much time there will be for a debate on this very important issue?

Mr. Butler

The allocation of the time must depend upon the discretion of the Opposition, and the scope of the debate on the Ruling of the Chair, but the fact is that there will be an opportunity and I hope that it will be taken.

Mr. Hector Hughes

On the subject of business for Friday, 17th March, may I ask what arrangements the Leader of the House has made for the celebration of St. Patrick's Day?

Mr. Butler

Perhaps the hon. and learned Member will consult with me and we can make a joint announcement.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Further to the point on the Services Estimates raised by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), may I ask whether the Leader of the House is aware that last night we voted £526 million for the Air Force, a very large sum of money, and that 400 Members were absent, including nearly every member of the Cabinet? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that never in history has so much money been voted by so few, and does he not think that the whole procedure on Service Estimates should be re-examined so that proper attention can be devoted to a very large amount of Government expenditure?

Mr. Butler

Last night's discussions were largely on Vote A. The question of further Parliamentary control of expenditure has been one to which we have all given a good deal of attention. We have already provided two extra days for this purpose and there is another day available a little later. I do not think that we have got to per- fection in our methods. Any suggestions which are made will be warmly welcomed by myself.

Mr. Manuel

On the point put to the right hon. Gentleman by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) about the inquiry into the Hydro-Electric Board and the right hon. Gentleman's advice that we should consult the Secretary of State for Scotland, is he not well aware that while the usual channels between England and himself are pretty thoroughly blocked, they are completely choked in the matter of Scottish questions and that that solution is of no value?

Mr. Butler

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is the most easy of access of all Members of the House and I hope that advantage will be taken of his offer.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman do a great deal better with Scottish business which has been put down for Wednesday night? Is he not aware that it has become a habit now to push Scottish business down to the bottom of the list for it to be taken at the latest possible hour? Is it not a fact that on Wednesday night, after going through all those Civil Estimates and through part at least of a further stage on the White Fish and Herring Industry Bill, we shall be landed at about three, four or five o'clock in the morning with a Motion for the Second Reading of the Crofters (Scotland) Bill?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is bound to lead to a debate, because there is an Amendment on the Order Paper to the Motion for Second Reading?

[That this House, while welcoming the extension of compensation to certain permanent improvements and of financial aid to some landholders of the economic status of crofters, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which applies to crofters bureaucratic compulsion, not applicable to other agricultural tenants or to landlords; which provides for the imposing upon crofters for periods of several years and at short notice of arbitrarily selected subt enants on their holdings; denies crofting communities the right of majority or of any decision in respect to schemes for radical reorganisation of their townships; fails to make any provision to assist crofters with the transporting or marketing of their produce; and fails to give the Crofters Commission any powers, responsibilities or resources to stimulate, assist or promote local industries and enterprises, without which crofting itself cannot survive.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman get out of the habit of putting Scottish business down for the end of the day? Why should it be, on this occasion, a second course after white fish?

Mr. Butler

The reason is that we have used the procedure of the Scottish Grand Committee for this Bill, which was discussed as to its principle for three sittings. On Second Reading, the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) has taken the exceptional course of tabling a reasoned Amendment. That necessitates a debate on the Floor of the House. We hope that that debate will not be unduly prolonged. It is exceptional procedure and I hope that the hon. Member and his hon. Friends will fall in with it.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

Surely it is the constitutional and established right of hon. Members to table an Amendment to the Second Reading on any Bill. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not challenging that. Is this a form of punishment, or censure, and an attempt to shorten the debate by putting the Second Reading down for three o'clock in the morning?

Mr. Butler

Constitutionally, this is an interesting device. I learn about procedure all the time, but this is the only time, with honour, that we can find for the hon. Member's Amendment, because we are pressed with business. It will not be three o'clock in the morning when it comes on. It will come on a great deal earlier, and I hope that the hon. Member will find an opportunity of debating it.

Mr. Morris

In finding myself, for once, in agreement with the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), on the need to find time to debate the Motion of Richard Thomas and Baldwins, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has consulted his right hon. Friend, as he promised the House he would do a fortnight ago, and that we shall have a debate on the Motion in view of the present activities of 1.S.H.R.A., which are causing alarm on this side of the House?

Mr. Butler

I cannot go further than I did in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). If a Supply Day can be found, perhaps the hon. Member will join his own siren voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster.

Dame Irene Ward

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, if I were to put down Amendments to the Service Estimates on the question of increased pensions for retired officers and their widows, that would ensure my being called on each of the three Estimates?

Mr. Butler

On that, I would not wish to interfere with the discretion of the Chair.

Mr. C. Pannell

Has the Leader of the House now got round to completing his reading of Ludovic Kennedy's book Ten Rillington Place which deals with the question of the guilt or otherwise of the late Timothy John Evans? If the right hon. Gentleman cannot make up his mind following his reading of the book, or cannot complete his reading because of his manifold duties, may I ask whether he proposes to allow time for my Bill to provide for the transfer of the remains of Timothy John Evans to his next-of-kin?

Mr. Butler

There was a Question on the Order Paper—I do not know whether it is still there—in the name of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) and I will, if it is there, take an early opportunity of answering it. On the second issue, we must leave the Bill to be a Private Member's Bill.

Mr. H. Hynd

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why Budget day has been postponed until after the county council elections?

Mr. Butler

The date of the Budget derives from the decision of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to complete his talks with the Prime Minister of Canada and with the President of the United States, which would not bring him back for the previous date for the Budget.

Mr. Crosland

Will the right hon. Gentleman be so good, with honour, as to find sufficient time for a debate on the Icelandic Agreement? Also, can he find time for a debate on the Motion, signed by a great number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, in favour of a decimal coinage?

[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

I will take note of the hon. Member's request, but I cannot give any undertaking.

Mr. M. Foot

Reverting to the business for next Tuesday, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any precedent for taking, on the same day, the remaining Votes of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force Estimates? If there is such a precedent in recent years, or if there is any agreement between the usual channels to this effect, can he tell us when this occurred, because is it not a fact that for many years it was the arrangement that each of these Votes should he taken on different days so that longer time could be given to them?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. It has become the practice over the last three or four years to take Votes on Account in this way. I cannot go further than that today. I have said that the matter can be looked at, but that has been recent practice.

Mr. Foot

How recently has this been the practice, and when was the arrangement made? Is there any other arrangement for this year?

Mr. Butler

I do not think that I am in a position to stress that this is done by arrangement. It is done according to recent practice. I do not want to stress that it is an arrangement unless I can be sure that it will be ratified by the party opposite It has been recent practice.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not the case that not only has this been the practice for some considerable time, but that the Opposition themselves provided the extra day on which these three Service Votes are taken?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. I was hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would put that from his point of view, because it represents the position.

Mr. S. Silverman

Whatever has become the recent practice, and however long it has been going on, will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider it? Is it not a very bad practice? Yesterday, we spent the whole day providing the whole of the debate from this side. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well the debate from this side was never answered by the Under-Secretary of State for Air, who had, in the end, to be told by the Chief Patronage Secretary "Do sit down." when he had not answered any of the debate at all.

That being so, ought not the House to have a greater opportunity than next Tuesday will provide of considering this expenditure, and of getting a considered answer from the Government to considered criticism of their policy?

Mr. Butler

I told my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) that these matters were always open to review. I cannot go further than the interchanges that we have had up to now.

Mr. Awbery

Yesterday, the Colonial Secretary made a statement on the Constitution of Malta. Will the right hon. Gentleman provide time for a discussion of the Constitutional Commission's Report?

Mr. Butler

I cannot undertake any more today, but I will take note of what the hon. Member has said.