HC Deb 29 March 1961 vol 637 cc1339-44
Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business of the House for the first week after the Recess?

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

Yes, Sir. The proposed business for the first week after the Recess and the following week will be as follows:

TUESDAY, 11TH APRIL, AND WEDNESDAY, 12TH APRIL—Report and Third Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill.

THURSDAY, 13TH APRIL—Consideration of the Report from the Privileges Committee concerning the Petition of Mr. Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn.

FRIDAY, 14TH APRIL—Consideration of private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 17TH APRIL—As already announced, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget.

The general debate on the Budget Resolutions and the Economic Situation will be continued on Tuesday and Wednesday and brought to a conclusion on Thursday of that week.

FRIDAY, 21ST APRIL—Consideration of Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Gaitskell

Concerning the business for Thursday, 13th April, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government propose to table a Motion? If so, can he give us any idea of the terms of the Motion and say whether, in the event of a Division taking place, he will agree to a free vote?

Mr. Butler

I think that it is more likely that the Government will table a Motion, and that will mean that it has Government support. The nature of the Motion is not yet decided, but I will endeavour to give the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends as much notice as I can of its nature.

Mr. Gaitskell

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that, as far as the Government are concerned, the Whips will be definitely on for this debate?

Mr. Butler

That is the present intention.

Mr. Tiley: Would it not be possible to deal with Thursday's business in half a day and then discuss exports for the rest of the day?

Mr. Butler

It would be a good idea if we could get through the other business.

Mr. Gaitskell

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect the Lord Chancellor to announce his findings on the Buxton case concerning the Minister of Housing and Local Government, which was referred to the Lord Chancellor by the Council on Tribunals?

Mr. Butler

I cannot give a definite date for that, but, as it has been raised by the Leader of the Opposition, I will immediately consult my noble Friend.

Mr. C. Osborne

My right hon. Friend said that on Monday, 17th April, we shall discuss the Budget and the general economic situation. Can he say when the Economic Survey will be ready? We cannot discuss the economic situation unless we have the details of it?

Mr. Butler

The Economic Survey will be published in good time for my hon. Friend and others to consider it.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when he will at last find time for a debate on the Mackintosh Report on the Law of Succession in Scotland, which has been in the Government archives for ten years and not touched?

Mr. Butler

I must examine the Government archives before I reply to that question.

Mr. Nabarro

May I ask my right hon. Friend a question about the business for the Thursday after we reassemble concerning the Report of the Committee of Privileges on the case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn? My right hon. Friend said that there would be a Government Motion. Does that imply that I shall be disciplined? Has not my right hon. Friend observed that a number of my hon. Friends and myself are supporters of a Measure entitled the Peerage Renunciation Bill? In those circumstances, would it not be appropriate that a free vote should be given?

Mr. Butler: I think that there is a formula by which it is possible to have a Government Motion and by which hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend, can freely express their opinions. I think that that is probably the best arrangement on this occasion.

Mr. M. Foot

Is not a matter concerning the Privileges of the House of Commons pre-eminently one in which the Whips should not be on? I readily declare my lack of interest in the matter, but cannot the Leader of the House confirm that it is the normal practice that the Whips should be taken off when we are debating the Privileges of the House? Does not he think that it is disgraceful that he should depart from the general practice in this case?

Mr. Butler

No, I do not think that it is disgraceful at all. It is normal for the Government to have a view. It is equally normal for hon. Members who have views on certain matters to express their opinions. I hope that the debate will be conducted without any attempt to victimise any hon. Member who wishes to express his opinion.

Mr. W. Hamilton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his line of action on this matter of great constitutional importance is typical of the Government issuing a three-line Whip in defence of feudalism?

Mr. Butler

I have not yet consulted my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary on the nature of the Whip that he proposes, but, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to be brought into the secrets of the Government, I very much doubt whether it will be a three-line Whip. I do not think that this is a question of feudalism at all. We want to be sure that in the modern age we take the right decision.

Mr. Paget

Can the Leader of the House give any example of the Government putting the Whips on in a House of Commons matter dealing with the rights of an individual Member? Can he say, for instance, whether the Whips were put on in the Bradlaugh controversy, in which party opinion ran very high? Even then they were not put on.

Mr. Butler

I have examined the Bradlaugh situation and the situation in the previous cases of O'Connell and others. None of them was exactly on all fours with this case. The important thing is that we should take each case as it arises. It is very probable that the Government will put down a Motion. I cannot go further than that today. It is perfectly reasonable for anyone who wishes to express an opinion to express it.

Mr. Gaitskell

Will the right hon. Gentleman clear up the matter a little further by saying whether the Government Motion will relate solely to the Report to the Committee of Privileges, or whether it will also deal with any consequential problems and questions which arise out of this matter?

Mr. Butler

On present viewing, it is more likely that the Government's Motion will deal with the Report of the Committee of Privileges. We are trying to table the Motion before the House rises, partly because we wish to suit the convenience of hon. Members opposite so that they can see what they have to deal with. It may not be possible to do that, but I am attempting to do it so as to give hon. Members time for consideration. The alternative is to table a Motion on our return, which would give hon. Members only a short time to consider it. If the right hon. Gentleman will not press me any further, I will attempt to see what can be done.

Mr. Wade

Are we to understand from the reply which the Leader of the House gave to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) that hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Kidderminster, will be entitled freely to express their opinions, but not entitled freely to vote?

Mr. Butler

We must not be silly about this. If my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) wishes to register a vote, he will register a vote, and he will do so with absolute understanding on the part of those who feel that he is convinced on this matter. It is impossible to adopt any other situation.

Mr. Shinwell

Is there not a simple solution to this dilemma? Why should not the Government promise to introduce legislation to abolish the House of Lords altogether?

Mr. Butler

If the right hon. Gentleman feels that way, he had better put down a Motion.

Mr. C. Pannell

The Leader of the House having surprisingly announced this matter of the Whips, may the House know at this stage whether, in the event of Mr. Benn wishing to proceed to the Bar, the right hon. Gentleman will put the Whips on for that?

Mr. Butler

That is a matter which needs further consideration between both sides of the House. In response to your Rulings, Mr. Speaker, this matter would have to be regulated by a Motion. It depends who put the Motion down what the nature of the Motion is. As Leader of the House, I should very much like to be informed.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

On a point of order. Without in any way wishing to involve the Chair in deciding the merits of the issues raised in the Report of the Committee of Privileges, would you be able to give a Ruling to the House, Mr. Speaker, as to the correct style of this gentleman? Is he to be known as Mr. Wedgwood Benn, or is he, until the House decides otherwise, Lord Stansgate?

Mr. Speaker

As I explained to the House the other day, all that I can do until the House otherwise decides is to proceed on the prima facie position. The prima facie position is that he bears the name of our Petitioner attached to the Report of the Committee of Privileges, namely, Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Can the Leader of the House give a firm and definite assurance that in the event of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and five other hon. Members opposite going into the Lobby against the Whips, they will not be expelled from the Conservative Party?

Mr. Butler

The hon. Member has five Members on the brain. It may well be that the figures differ on this occasion. All I can say is that our methods of conducting our party differ considerably from the methods of the party opposite. They are a great deal more sensible and lead to a greater degree of unity than will ever be achieved by the party opposite.

Mr. G. Brown

When the Leader of the House made that statement, had he in mind Mr. Nigel Nicolson, Brigadier Medlicott, Anthony Nutting and the others on his side who have been disciplined in the past?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Whatever other hon. Members have in mind, I have it in mind that this is a moment dedicated to business questions.

Mr. Lipton

Can the Leader of the House say whether the Government propose to provide facilities to enable the Ministers of the Crown Bill to reach the Statute Book? The right hon. Gentleman will remember that permission to introduce this Bill was granted by the House yesterday, by an over-whelming majority.

Mr. Butler

I cannot make any further statement on that subject today.