HC Deb 23 January 1962 vol 652 cc49-52
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about business.

It will probably be for the convenience of the House to know that the business proposed for next Monday, 29th January, is a debate on London local government, which will arise on a Government Motion to take note of the White Paper, Cmnd. 1562.

Mr. Gaitskell

Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that this important and complex subject really merits a two-day and not a one-day debate? Is he aware that, although we want, of course, to have a debate on this subject, we do not regard it as nearly as urgent as a number of other subjects, some of which have been raised in Private Notice Questions today? Therefore, I ask whether he would reconsider the matter and discuss through the usual channels changing the business for next Monday?

Mr. Macleod

If the Leader of the Opposition, who has a number of Supply Days at his disposal at this time or Session, would like to put forward alternative proposals through the usual channels we would, of course, look at them. On the assumption that the business stands at the moment as I have announced it, I think that we could have an excellent debate and take the House's view of this matter in one day. If there is a general wish in the House—it sometimes happens—that the time should be extended by, say, an hour, that is, again, a matter which we can discuss.

Sir L. Heald

May I ask my right hon. Friend to give this matter further consideration? It seems very short notice. Certainly, the Surrey Members, who are very much concerned with this matter, will be very surprised to hear—I do not see them all here this afternoon—that it is proposed to debate this subject on Monday. It is hoped to have a discussion about the matter with the county experts and authorities, and it will be impossible to arrange that before Monday. I am sure that we shall all be very much better prepared to discuss the matter, and that it will possibly be more reasonable in some ways, if we could have an opportunity of being fully instructed beforehand. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that.

Mr. Macleod

I entirely understand that point of view. I am as much affected by these proposals as any other hon. Member of the House. But, of course, it is also desirable that the Minister of Housing and Local Government should explain the Government's point of view in relation to these proposals at an early date. The House will not, of course, be asked in this debate to take final decisions. It will merely be asked to take note of the White Paper. There will be a considerable number of discussions following that, and also, no doubt, a number of inquiries. I should have thought that it was the general view of the House that it would be as well to take the sense of the House on the general proposals at a fairly early date.

Mr. S. Silverman

While the right hon. Gentleman is discussing business questions, could he give the House any idea when he proposes to bring forward his threatened Motions on a Guillotine for the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill and the Army Reserve Bill?

Mr. Speaker

Order. On this limited business statement, we cannot have a general discussion about other business, else we shall be here too long.

Mr. F. Harris

May I support the view expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald)? I asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, before the Recess, when this matter was to be debated, and the reply that he gave me seemed to indicate that it would not come forward with the undue haste with which it appears to be coming forward on Monday. Many of us want quite considerable discussions and consultations to take place before we debate the matter. If it is his intention to get the views and opinions of hon. Members, surely it is better to wait and obtain them when hon. Members have had an opportunity of full consultation with their authorities.

Mr. Macleod

What I said in reply to my hon. Friend on Thursday, 30th November, was: We shall certainly discuss it in the House, but I am sure that it should not be this side of the Christmas Recess. There are many hon. Members who want to study it before they express their views."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1961; Vol. 650, c. 629.] That is getting on for two months ago.

There have been a considerable number of local discussions on these matters. I shall be glad to consider the matter if the Opposition wish to have discussions through the usual channels, but I should have thought that, without commitment—we are asking the House merely to take note of the White Paper—there would be considerable advantage in having at this early stage the Minister of Housing and Local Government expound the details of the Government's attitude towards these proposals.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there seems to be quite a feeling on both sides of the House that the debate would be rather premature if we were to take it as soon as next week and that this really does not fit in with what I recollect he told the House a little before Christmas—at least, the general impression that he gave us? Did I understand him to suggest that we might discuss the matter with a view to substituting a Supply Day on Monday and taking the debate on London government a little later? Will he also bear in mind later what I said about the desirability of a two-day debate when hon. Members have had a chance to study and consult on these tremendously important issues?

Mr. Macleod

I shall be glad to discuss the possibility of substitution through the usual channels, but I cannot undertake, though I have said that I would be prepared to consider whether we should discuss it next Monday or at a later date, to offer two days of Government time for the subject, although an extension of time might be permitted.

Dame Irene Ward

If my right hon. Friend finds himself in any difficulty about next Monday's debate, is he aware that the North-East Coast is waiting to hear about the Boundary Commission's Report on its problems? If he really wants to discuss local government then, would it not be possible to tell us what is to happen to us?

Mr. Macleod

I cannot tell my hon. Friend what is to happen to her at this precise moment.