HC Deb 22 February 1962 vol 654 cc637-48
Mr. G. Brown

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business for next week?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY, 26TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the South Africa Bill, and Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

TUESDAY, 27TH FEBRUARY—Commonwealth Immigrants Bill.

Completion of the remaining stages.

WEDNESDAY, 28TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Road Traffic Bill [Lords], and Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

Second Reading of the Acts of Parliament (Numbering and Citation) Bill [Lords].

Consideration of the Motion to approve the Import Duties (General) (No. 3) Order.

THURSDAY, 1ST MARCH—Second Reading of the Commonwealth Settlement Bill, and Committee stage of the Money Resolution.

Education Bill.

Completion of the remaining stages. FRIDAY, 2ND MARCH—Consideration of private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 5TH MARCH, and TUESDAY, 6TH MARCH—The proposed business will be a debate on Defence, on a Government Motion inviting the House to approve the White Paper (Command No. 1639).

Mr. Smithers

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the Motion standing in my name and the names of a number of other hon. Members concerning the underground storage of gas which is provided for in a Bill at present before the House?

[That this House, in view of the considerations involved, legal, constitutional, economic, technical and strategic, and of considerations of public safety and amenities, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to set up an independent inquiry into the desirability, practicability and implications of the underground storage of gas in Great Britain; and is of opinion that pending the report of such an inquiry the Gas (Underground Storage) (Chilcomb) Bill, 1961, should be withdrawn.]

Can my right hon. Friend say whether there is any possibility of a debate on the matter, or tell us what the procedural position is?

Mr. Macleod

I have, of course, noted this Motion, and I am also aware of the strong feelings which this matter arouses. The situation is that the Bill, having been opposed for a formal Second Reading, has not yet been put down for discussion. Perhaps we had better wait to see what happens.

Mr. Steele

Is the Leader of the House aware that Standing Committee E is at present dealing with the Transport Bill and that, to help the Government with their business, it is sitting not only next Tuesday morning, but in the afternoon and perhaps also in the evening? In view of the fact that the subject of Wednesday's business in the House is the Road Traffic Bill, and that hon. Members on Standing Committee E are particularly interested in this Measure—and also that the Minister of Transport and the Parliamentary Secretary, who are also on Standing Committee E, will obviously be interested in it—will it be possible for that business to be transferred to Thursday, or can the Minister give us an assurance that we will not sit too late in Committee on Tuesday evening?

Mr. Macleod

I am glad to know that hon. Members opposite are so anxious to help with the progress of the Transport Bill. That was not my impression from reading reports of the proceedings in Committee. The Road Traffic Bill is of great importance to all hon. Members. Whatever their various views may be, to the extent that it affects road safety it must command a good deal of support. Therefore, I thought that we should take the Second Reading. It is true that this creates a complication in relation to the other Bill which is being considered upstairs, and I will take into account the point which the hon. Member has raised.

Mr. Shinwell

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen a Motion on the Order Paper today entitled Prerogative or Mercy", which is signed by very large numbers of hon. Members on this side of the House? In view of the feeling among those hon. Members and, presumably, among hon. Members opposite, and the public disquiet about the matter, would the right hon. Gentleman afford facilities to enable us to debate it?

[That this House calls upon the Secretary of State for the Home Department, within the powers vested in him, to advise the exercise of the prerogative of mercy in respect of those persons associated with the Nuclear Disarmament Campaign who were sentenced to terms of imprisonment at the Old Bailey.]

Mr. Macleod

I understand, although I do not share, the anxiety expressed in that Motion, and which was also expressed in the House yesterday. But my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made the position quite clear. It is open to those concerned to apply to the Court of Criminal Appeal for leave to appeal. I should make it quite clear that there can be no question of Government time being provided to discuss that matter.

Mr. Nabarro

May I press my right hon. Friend on the question asked of him by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) about the Motion which has been signed by hon. Members on both sides of the House? Would not my right hon. Friend concur at once that it would be extremely unsatisfactory procedurally to try to compress discussion on an important matter of this kind—which has national implications—for all the reasons given in the Motion, into a very short discussion on a Private Bill? Will not my right hon. Friend consult the Minister of Power on the question of an allocation of Government time, so that this and similar projects in the future may properly be opposed by hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Mr. Macleod

I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power and, indeed, other of my right hon. Friends, because there is more than one Ministry concerned in this proposal. It has some novel aspects. I can only suggest to my hon. Friend that he takes note of what I said earlier, that we should wait to see how this develops and not make too many assumptions.

Mr. Wade

Can the Leader of the House say when a debate will take place on the subject of House of Lords reform about which there is a Motion on the Order Paper in his name? When a debate takes place, will it be of such a wide nature as to allow those who consider a much more radical reform necessary to express their views?

Mr. Macleod

I hope that it will be possible to have a debate within the next few weeks at least. The subject is not included in the business which I have announced for next week. So far as concerns the scope of the matter, presumably the original Question to be put to the House would be the Motion standing on the Order Paper in my name. It is for the Chair and not for me to decide how much wider the debate should range in the light of Amendments or of anything else.

Sir G. Nicholson

In view of the principles involved in the Gas (Underground Storage) (Chilcomb) Bill, and the implications, and the enormous multiplicity of points of view, would not it be much more appropriate if there were immediate acceptance of the need for an inquiry and that for the time being the Bill was withdrawn, rather than allow matters of great moment to hinge on a debate of two or three hours in this House on a specific Measure?

Dame Irene Ward

Why not mention Ullswater?

Mr. Macleod

I have not said that this would happen. This is a Private Bill. I do not know when it may be put down for "opposed discussion", if that be the right way to put it. I think that I have made quite clear to my hon. Friends that I entirely understand their anxieties. I have referred to the novel aspects of the Bill and the discussions which I have had about it with a number of my right hon. Friends. Beyond that not only cannot I go, but I think that it would be improper for me to go, in view of the state of the Bill before the House.

Mr. Shinwell

May I revert to the matter to which I have already directed the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, the Motion standing in my name? Would not he agree that although primarily this is a matter for the jurisdiction of the courts and that it has various legal aspects, nevertheless there are definite political implications; for example, the right of citizens to engage in public demonstrations? In view of these political implications, will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision and find time to have just a short debate on the matter?

Mr. Macleod

No, Sir. I must be made quite clear that I agree entirely with the point of view put by the Home Secretary to the House yesterday. In view of that, I cannot undertake to find Government time.

Dame Irene Ward

Following his discussion with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the "Mrs. Mops", may I ask my right hon. Friend whether we are to have a chance next week to talk about something which is very dear to the hearts of all hon. Members before final action is taken? Did my right hon. Friend have a satisfactory and sympathetic talk with the Chancellor, or did the Chancellor overrule his sympathy?

Mr. Macleod

I had an entirely sympathetic talk with the Chancellor—as I always do, and as was shown by the fact that a question on this was answered specially on Tuesday—and I think that the House will regard it as in a sense unusual—at the end of Questions, in reply to the appeals made to me on Thursday of last week.

Mr. J. Robertson

In view of the closure of pits and of railway lines in Scotland, and the further increase in unemployment and short-time working in the steel industry in Scotland, will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer to a question which I asked him last week concerning the distribution of industry? Would not he agree that there can be no subject of greater importance to the House than the well-being of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the Northern Counties of England? Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have a responsibility in this matter? Will not he arrange for an early debate on the question?

Mr. Macleod

No one can quarrel with the hon. Member's generalisaition. Frankly, this is the most difficult time of the whole year for Government time; we are moving into the spring period of Supply. During this period the number of days available for general debate is negligible. In view of that, I cannot be more forthcoming than I was last week.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Would my right hon. Friend address himself to a Motion which at one time had about 330 names attached to it, and called for an independent inquiry into the remuneration of members of the Fire Service; and also the Motion which, I think, has 162 names attached to it, calling for a review of the remuneration of members of professions supplementary to medicine, as the people engaged in those services are endeavouring to render a service to the community rather than to break its laws?

[That this House is concerned at the grave shortage of qualified audiological technicians, dieticians, occupational therapists, orthoptists, physiotherapists, and remedial gymnasts in the National Health Service and its effects on the national economy; and calls upon the Minister of Health to appoint an independent committee to review and report upon the present arrangements for recruitment, retention, grading and remuneration of members of these professions in the National Health Service, and to make any recommendations considered necessary.]

Mr. Macleod

Questions relating to the professions supplementary to medicine are largely for the ordinary negotiating machinery. In a number of the professions which are included under the umbrella of that Motion the negotiating machinery is being used. I believe that that is a more satisfactory approach than having an inquiry or, for that matter, a debate.

Mr. S. Silverman

May I revert to the subject of the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who urged the Leader of the House to reconsider that matter? Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that prosecutions under this Section of the Official Secrets Act cannot be instituted without the leave of the Attorney-General and that in the exercise of that authority—as was shown many years ago by the Campbell case—it would be quite wrong for him to be influenced by political considerations? Is not he aware that in the opinion of many hon. Members this was an abuse of that procedure, and that these people should not be kept in gaol one day more? Will he give the House of Commons an opportunity to debate and decide that question?

Mr. Macleod

Nobody who has been, as I have been for almost ten years now, a Minister of Cabinet rank or a member of the Cabinet, could think for a moment that in any decision—whatever may have happened in an isolated instance a generation or more ago—in any case at all a Law Officer of the Crown is deflected by political considerations from doing his duty.

Mr. Willis

Will the right hon. Gentleman apply his mind to the problem arising as a result of the increasing number of Standing Committees which are being compelled to sit on Tuesday afternoons? The House is being denuded of almost 200 hon. Members as from next week, and there will be no Scottish Member, as from next week, who will be able to attend business in the House on Tuesdays. Will the right hon. Gentleman do something about that?

Mr. Macleod

I am sure that the hon. Member will join with me in an earnest appeal to Scottish hon. Members to expedite the business in Standing Committees.

Mr. Peyton

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that considerable expedition of the business of the House could be achieved if a new organisation were set up to arrange for some Scottish business to be discussed north of the Tweed?

Mr. Fletcher

Whatever the Leader of the House may think of the attitude of Law Officers of the Crown during the last ten years, surely he does not dispute the right of this House, if it wants to do so, to criticise the action of the Attorney-General in any specific case in issuing his fiat for a presecution?

Mr. Macleod

I did not say that. There may well be ways in which it is appropriate to put down such a Motion. What I was dealing with was the question of Government time and the suggestion which was made, which I say from my experience I know to be untrue, that Law Officers are influenced in these matters by political considerations. They are not.

Mr. Ross

Bearing in mind that the business for next Tuesday was considered so important that the Government changed their mind and insisted that it should be debated on the Floor of the House in Committee and that on Tuesday next no fewer than three Committees—the Sea Fish Industry Bill Committee, the Transport Bill Committee and the Scottish Committee—will be meeting upstairs, thereby depriving 100 to 140 hon. Members of the oportunity of being in this House to discuss that important matter, will the Leader of the House reconsider next Tuesday's business? If he cannot find any other way, will he adjourn the House next Tuesday after Questions in order to allow us to concentrate on these important matters?

Mr. Macleod

No. Sir.

Dr. King

Is the Leader of the House aware that the anxieties which several of his hon. Friends have expressed this afternoon about the Gas (Underground Storage) (Chilcomb) Bill are shared by hon. Members on this side of the House? Will he give serious consideration to whether a Bill of this magnitude, raising such new and tremendous issues, ought to be taken by Private Bill procedure at all?

Mr. Macleod

Yes, Sir, of course I will. Indeed, I had meant my previous answer to indicate that that was one of the sort of matters I am considering.

Mr. Hale

Will the right hon. Gentleman stop talking about "Government time" and realise that the time is the time of the House allocated by vote, which can be countermanded? If there is a really important moral issue raised by this use of a procedure which the House passed to deal with espionage and which is being applied with what appears to us singular brutality against men of conscience—however misguided or otherwise their views may be—if there is a real demand for a debate, will the right hon. Gentleman remember that if that demand is refused we may be compelled to take a course which would make a debate imperative? We would be compelled to take time for a course which otherwise would be distasteful to us. It is the job of the Leader of the House to try to meet a largely expressed desire of this kind.

Mr. Macleod

On the question of terminology, of course all time is the time of the House, but the hon. Member, who is a very experienced Parliamentarian, knows perfectly well that there are many occasions on which the Government—if I may put it this way—have the initiative and on which, by convention, the Opposition have the initiative. We all understand this and understand what those occasions are.

On this occasion, I am being asked to provide a day from what I call Government time—although I agree that it is the time of the House of Commons—to debate a matter on which the Home Secretary made a quite clear statement yesterday, that is to say, that those concerned can apply to the Court of Criminal Appeal for leave to appeal. It would be wholly wrong of me to try to embroider on that.

Mr. Frank Allaun

The Leader of the House has just said that the debate is not permissible within the fourteen days in which an appeal might be made. Will he give an undertaking that time will be provided for such a debate if, within the remaining thirteen days, this right of appeal is not exercised?

Mr. Macleod

No, Sir. I did not say that it was not permissible within the days concerned. I was dealing with the question whether it would or would not be right for me to offer Government time for this matter. "Government time" is a convenient term Which we all understand. I must stick to the point I made. I understand, although as I have said I do not share, (the views which have been expressed about this matter. I am certain that what was said by the Home Secretary yesterday was right.

Mr. G. Brown

I am not sure that I followed that last statement.

Mr. Frank Allaun

On a point of order. The Leader of the House told us only a few moments ago that the ground was the inadvisability of a debate within the fourteen days. Now he has told us that that is not the ground. Where do we stand in the matter?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. G. Brown

I gather that the Minister said that he thought it would be wrong for him to embroider—I think that that was the word he used—on what the Home Secretary said yesterday. It was that these people have a period in which to apply for leave to appeal. Is a fair deduction for my hon. Friends to draw from that that when the period is up there will be a different situation which will not be covered by the Home Secretary's statement yesterday? They are asking the Leader of the House whether he will tell us what he would be willing to do after that.

Mr. Macleod

I think that part of what the right hon. Member has said is perfectly fair. After this period has run out, whether there be an appeal or not, to that extent, of course, a new situation will arise. The point is that then it would be appropriate, I imagine, for the Home Secretary to consider representations on their behalf. That is the point my right hon. Friend was making yesterday and which I make now.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I am a little concerned about the interests of the House in general on this matter. Of course, it is out of order to ask of a Minister a question which is already answered, although in a negative way. I must indicate that I think it is reaching a point where to go on asking the same question which has been answered in a negative way is not in order. I would, of course, hear any new business questions arising.

Mrs. Hart

I wish to seek your guidance again, Mr. Speaker, as I did yesterday. There is a difficulty here, because clarification is needed on the questions which have been asked. Would I be permitted to seek that?

Mr. Speaker

I do not understand what this is about. The Minister is being asked to give time—if I use the term "Government time" it is only in the sense in which the Leader of the House used it—and he said that he would not give it now or hereafter. What clarification arises out of that?

Mrs. Hart

With due respect, Mr. Speaker, I think that there is one point which needs some clarification. There seems to be a little confusion on whether we are talking entirely and exclusively about giving time for a debate on a Motion which appeared on the Order Paper concerning people in prison, or if we may also deal with a question of providing time to debate whether or not it was right that the Official Secrets Act should have been invoked. I completely understand the Leader of the House saying that he does not think that it would be possible to find time for the former, whether the situation may or may not change during fourteen days. He has not made clear, however, whether he also takes that view on the latter point.

Mr. Speaker

No doubt we could discuss some question of a Motion on the Order Paper relating—I do not know how to put it in a negative way—to the use of this Statute for this wrong purpose, but at the moment the problem relates to the opportunity for a discussion of the Motion on the Order Paper, in names beginning, I think, with the name of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell).

Mr. Parkin

Further to that point of order. Would it not save the time of the House if the Leader of the House were to recognise that the Motion on the Order Paper is not concerned with any steps it may be possible to take later to discuss the issue of the fiat? It is a recommendation that at the earliest opportunity, a political trial against a particular method having taken place, it should be followed by a political gesture in recommending clemency.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot see any point of order in that.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the refusal of the Home Secretary to advise Her Majesty the Queen to exercise the Royal pre rogative of mercy in the case of those recently convicted and sentenced under the Official Secrets Act, Section 1. Before asking you to consider whether this is a case within the Standing Order, Mr. Speaker, I should like to advance three very short considerations. The first is that the question which the House would like to discuss is not the same question as might, if notice were given, be dealt with by the Court of Criminal Appeal. The judges in the Court of Criminal Appeal would be considering questions within their competence under the Act and arising out of the trial. The House wishes to consider whether the Royal prerogative of mercy, which is quite a different thing, should be exercised and, indeed, the circumstances in which this prosecution was ever started.

The second consideration I respectfully draw to your attention is that, even if notice of appeal were given, it must inevitably happen that many weeks would elapse before it could be dealt with.

The third consideration is the intimation by the Leader of the House, frequently repeated during the course of the last ten minutes, that there will be no convenient opportunity otherwise for considering this question, unless this Motion is accepted. This is not a case in which it can be said that there is another and an early opportunity, because this is exactly what the Leader of the House has said will not happen. In these circumstances, I submit, with all respect, that there could be no clearer case of an application of this kind being made under the Standing Order, and I respectfully ask for leave.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the refusal of the Home Secretary to advise Her Majesty the Queen to exercise the Royal prerogative of mercy in the case of those recently convicted and sentenced under the Official Secrets Act, Section 1. In my view, this cannot be within the Standing Order, and I cannot leave it to the House.