HC Deb 16 March 1961 vol 636 cc1753-62
Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Leader of the House to 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 the next week will be as follows: MONDAY, 20TH MARCH—Supply [11th Allotted Day]: Report stage of the Civil Estimates and Estimates for Revenue Departments Vote on Account.

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

At 9.30 p.m. the Question will be put from the Chair on the Vote under discussion and on all outstanding Votes required by the end of the Financial year.

Consideration of Motions to approve the Import Duties (Temporary Exemptions) (Chemicals) Order; and the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Amendment Order.

TUESDAY, 21ST MARCH—SeCOrid Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

A debate will take place on the Minister of Transport's statement on the British Transport Commission, until about seven o'clock.

Afterwards there will be a debate on the Report of the Southern Rhodesia Constitutional Conference, until about ten o'clock.

WEDNESDAY, 22ND MARCH—Second Reading of the Sierra Leone Independence Bill, which is being presented tomorrow.

There is some urgency for this Bill and it is hoped that the House will be good enough to facilitate its progress. We have, for example, to publish the constitution for the new independence of Sierra Leone and obtain formal approval of the Commonwealth Governments for the admission of Sierra Leone to the Commonwealth, and to do that, if possible, before Easter.

Report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Consideration of a Lords Amendment to the Betting Levy Bill.

THURSDAY, 23RD MARCH—Committee and remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

A debate will take place on the Iron and Steel Industry, with particular reference to the disposal of holdings by the Iron and Steel Holdings Realisation Agency, until about 8.30 p.m.

FRIDAY, 24TH MARCH—Consideration of Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 27TH MARCH—The proposed business will be: Second Reading of the Housing Bill and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.

Mr. Gaitskell

Will the right hon. Gentleman care to make plain that the references in his statement to Tuesday's business ending at 10 p.m. and Thursday's business ending at 8.30 p.m. did not mean that all debating would stop at those points? In other words, will he remind the House that the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill and the Committee and remaining stages are excepted business?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my hon. Friends will no doubt wish to raise a number of other matters after the business on those days has been disposed of? While we are prepared to do what we can to help with the Sierra Leone Independence Bill, which we, too, wish to see made law quickly, nevertheless his idea of concluding the Report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill on Wednesday seems to us to be out of the question.

Mr. Butler

It is a well-known tradition of the House that on the Consolidated Fund Bill there is an opportunity for general debate and for private Members to bring forward matters in which they are interested. My reference to those two subjects was at the request of the Opposition. Particular times were mentioned in both cases not exactly by agreement, but simply as an indication that there would be more than one debate and that the debates would have to be partitioned out. Nothing I have said in any way inhibits discussion on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

I expect that we shall make some progress with the Report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill. It is a constructive Bill about which we must be reasonable, and although we have preferred not to have to take the Sierra Leone Bill before it we must do so for constitutional reasons; but in the circumstances we will pay due attention to the need for adequate time for the Criminal Justice Bill.

Mr. P. Williams

I thought the Prime Minister said that there would be a debate on South Africa. This appears to have passed by my right hon. Friend. Is there an indication that it is to be next week or the week after?

Mr. Butler

No. Things do not usually pass by me. The reason I announced it like this—I say this for the benefit of my hon. Friend—was that that was business agreed before. If we are to fit in a debate on South Africa, conversations will be necessary through the usual channels. There is an opportunity and I will have to let the House know the arrangement so that hon. Members will know.

Mr. Williams

For how long? The whole day?

Mr. Butler

That will be a matter for discussion.

Mr. Shinwell

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that on Tuesday next a debate on the announcement we heard yesterday from the Minister of Transport will take place until seven o'clock? On the Consolidated Fund Bill, when it is unlikely that any vote will emerge, if I table a Motion of censure calling for the resignation of the Minister of Transport, and if I am supported by other hon. Members, will the right hon. Gentleman find time to debate it?

Mr. Butler

I must wait and see what the right hon. Gentleman puts down, but this is a request from the Opposition and it seems to me to provide a good opportunity for discussing this subject. As I have already told the Leader of the Opposition, I have simply indicated how time might be settled between this and other subjects on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. On the debate on Tuesday on the Consolidated Fund Bill, is it not your function, Mr. Speaker, to decide who shall be called during that debate, and for the hon. Member whom you select to decide what subject he will raise? Is there any convention or rule of the House which enables the usual channels, or anybody else but you, to decide who shall be called, when he shall be called, or what he shall talk about?

Mr. Speaker

Nobody decides who shall be called except myself, and in the circumstances mentioned by the hon. Member the hon. Member so called would no doubt talk about the topic which he thought most appropriate. On the other hand, I would not like to give the impression that I should be wholly unaware that it might be for the convenience of the House in general to group certain topics at certain times.

Sir T. Moore

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members are deeply interested and concerned about the Report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill? Will he ensure that we are not, I will not say fobbed off—that we are not restricted to debate at a late hour, when none of our mental equipment is at its brightest and best, but that, should we not stop at a reasonable hour he will give us a further opportunity to continue this very important discussion?

Mr. Butler

The undertakings I gave to the Leader of the Opposition obviously apply to my hon. Friend and to the whole House. I was not simply giving undertakings to one side of the House. If hon. Members wish to raise topics on the Bill, and they are called by the Chair during the Report stage, we must discuss them and come to decisions on them.

Mr. Dugdale

Would I be right in deducing from the Prime Minister's statement that there may be some readjustment of the business next week to discuss South Africa?

Mr. Butler

I think that we must have a discussion on this matter through the usual channels, since a good deal of the available time next week is at the disposal, so to speak, of the House and the Opposition. I think that conversations are essential before we decide.

Mr. John Hall

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been called to the proceedings last Tuesday, when we were able to debate only the Navy Estimates and a small part of the Army Vote, and were unable to debate the Air Force Vote? In future, may we have more time to discuss these very important Votes?

Mr. Butler

The matter was raised on the Floor of the House before the debate started. Now that the debate has taken place I think that there is every reason to look at the matter with a view to full consideration of this question, but in view of recent practice I cannot give any undertaking today.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. May I respectfully submit to you Mr. Speaker, the bearing which the question just asked has on the point of order I raised a few minutes ago? Various Estimates and like the Consolidated Fund Bill and the Appropriations Bill, are traditionally occasions when private Members can raise their own particular questions on all sorts of matters which are not covered by agreement through the usual channels, which are not matters of general debate, but are questions which there is no other opportunity to raise.

One of the reasons why the situation developed about which the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) and some others of us complained was the effect given to the unofficial agreement to devote ourselves to general questions of policy yesterday afternoon at the expense of the matters which were dealt with. What I am submitting is that these occasions are not the appropriate occasions for agreement for long debates lasting many hours about general questions of policy which can be debated on other occasions, but that the rights of private Members ought to be protected.

Mr. Reynolds

Further to that point of order—

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that it was a point of order. I am sure that what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was saying will have been heard.

Mr. F. Noel-Baker

The Leader of the House cannot be unaware of the deep shock, alarm, and frustration felt by rail-waymen at all levels by yesterday's appalling statement by the Minister of Transport. Can we not urge him to give time for a proper debate on that statement and all the grave implications arising from it? Will not he reconsider the timetable for next week?

Mr. Butler

The timetable has to be looked at in the light of the statement made by the Prime Minister this afternoon. I do not think that we can easily go back on the request by the Opposition that this matter should be aired and discussed in a perfectly free way in the manner suggested.

Mr. Prior

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the Motion on the Order Paper dealing with 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.] Would not this subject provide a more stimulating debate, both inside and outside the House, than some others we have had recently?

Mr. Butler

We are rather pressed for business, and this Motion must take its place in the queue.

Mr. C. Pannell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of us are deeply disappointed that we have not had a statement on the subject of Timothy John Evans? As we are to consider the Criminal Justice Bill next week, will the right hon. Gentleman give his attention to belated justice to a man whom most of us believe was wrongly convicted?

Mr. Butler

I have answered in written form Questions which are on the Order Paper today. I am sorry that they were not reached at Question Time, but the Answers will be available for the hon. Members who asked the Questions. I was in difficulties because the Questions were postponed from last week. For reasons connected with this man's family, I did not feel it right to postpone the decision any further, and under the circumstances I have made my reply.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Can my right hon. Friend say when the Crown Estates Bill may be set down for Second Reading, bearing in mind the anxiety with which the areas affected are awaiting it, and, also, that it was the first casualty of the campaign currently mounted by the Opposition?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. I cannot make a statement about that at present.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) about the time devoted to the Services Estimates, is the Leader of the House aware that because of allocation of time Votes on both the Army and Navy were not discussed, that £1,000 million of public money was involved, and that the House is wondering what control it now exercises over this immense expenditure? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last night two-thirds of the hon. Members of the House did not vote on the question of £1,000 million? Can he say that he is in earnest about getting this vast amount of public expenditure properly examined?

Mr. Butler

I cannot comment further on the business of Supply.

Mr. Ede

I want to revert to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he will be able to dispose of the matter of Timothy John Evans without coming to the Dispatch Box and answering the questions which are causing grave uneasiness to hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. I never thought that at all. I had to give an answer to the Questions which are on the Order Paper, and I did it in the best way I could. I have sent notes to the right hon. Gentleman and to the two hon. Members who put Questions down, explaining what I have done. I am fully aware that when I have to answer Oral Questions again there may be opportunities for cross-questioning by other hon. Members. This is a very poignant and difficult case, and it is not unreasonable to ask that my statement should be read quietly and pondered over. Then, if hon. Members wish to raise further Questions on the matter, they can do so.

Mr. M. Foot

The right hon. Gentleman, when referring to this question, seemed to imply by his previous answer tha he was put in some difficulty by the postponement of the Questions last week. That did not put him into any difficulty. Is it not the fact that he was intending to make a statement, and would it not have been quite simple for him—and much fairer to the House generally—to have made a statement, in the same way as has happened in many other cases? Why did not he do so today?

Mr. Butler

Because I gave precedence to the Questions of hon. Members on the Order Paper which had been postponed, and who had not seen my Answers to their Questions.

As for making a statement today, I realised that the Prime Minister was making a statement on Africa, and that we had the business statement, and the statement on the Price Review. I knew it was a difficult day for a subject like this to be ventilated. In the circumstances, and upon consideration, when hon. Members have read my statement they may think that this is the best way of doing it.

Mr. Awbery

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it will be impossible to govern the Island of Malta unless we get the fullest co-operation and support of the people of Malta? They are opposed to the constitutional proposals put before the House by the Colonial Secretary. Will the right hon. Gentleman provide time for a discussion of the Report of the Committee?

Mr. Butler

I will give consideration to the hon. Member's request.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Minister of Labour made one of his usual unsatisfactory speeches in Glasgow yesterday, on the subject of youth training? Is he also aware of the Motion on the Order Paper in the names of all hon. Members on this side of the House who represent Scottish constituencies?

[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.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an opportunity to debate the subject of the Motion? If, as I suspect, his answer is that we might debate it during our discussion of the Consolidated Fund Bill, may I now give him notice that we may do so, and that we should like the Secretary of State for Scotland to be in attendance?

Mr. Butler

I will take note of what the hon. Member has said.

Mr. S. Silverman

Reverting once again to the case of Timothy John Evans—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I make no apology for doing so. The right hon. Gentleman is surely not unaware that one convenient way of giving precedence to Questions on the Order Paper, even when they are not reached, is to ask permission of Mr. Speaker—which is regularly given on these occasions—to answer the Questions at the end of Oral Questions?

Will he bear in mind the fact that a great many hon. Members have been very anxious to discuss the matter in the House and have exercised a good deal of restraint, so as to give the right hon. Gentleman a proper opportunity of studying it? If a mistake has been made it should be acknowledged as generously and as early as possible.

Mr. Butler

I do not complain of the tone in which the hon. Member speaks, but I have told the House of the considerations which moved me. It was rather a difficult situation. If hon. Members wish to look into the matter they will now have every chance of reading my reply.