HC Deb 21 July 1964 vol 699 cc282-5
The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement.

In view of my right hon. Friend's announcement on Malta, the business for Thursday, 23rd July, and Monday, 27th July, has been rearranged as follows:

THURSDAY—Second Reading of the Malta Independence Bill, after which we shall, in view of the urgency, ask the House to take the remaining stages.

MONDAY, 27TH JULY—Supply [26th Allotted Day]: Report.

A debate on the Family Doctor Service until 7.30 p.m., when the Question will be put from the Chair on the Vote under discussion and on all outstanding Votes.

Afterwards, a debate on Concessionary Fares, on an Opposition Motion.

Motions on the Thames Conservancy Orders, and the Police Pensions (Amendment) Regulations.

Mr. G. Brown

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that we have acquiesced in the order of business which the Government are asking for on the basis that it is their responsibility and not ours? Is he not clearly aware that there will be many hon. Members on both sides of the House who will have a number of issues to raise, that putting the Malta Independence Bill through in one day will, therefore, be a very difficult operation and the day may have to be protracted?

Mr. Lloyd

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies said, we know that we are asking a great deal of the House to do this, and we would not ask it unless it were in the interests of this country and perhaps more in the interests of Malta that the Bill should go through as quickly as possible.

Mrs. Castle

Is the Leader of the House aware that he had no right to make a suggestion of this kind to the House? It is intolerable that he should ask the House to discuss this important matter, involving human rights and the rights of minorities—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—with which we know hon. Members opposite are not at all concerned. It is quite wrong that we should be asked to discuss this detailed and important matter within less than 48 hours. Is there not another week of Parliamentary time in which this matter could be discussed? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman postpone the Bill until at least Thursday of next week?

Mr. Lloyd

I cannot help the hon. Lady, much as I would like to do so. The Bill has got to go through another place as well, and I think that it is in the interests of Malta that it should go through as quickly as possible. The issues involved are well known. I realise that it is asking a great deal of the House, but I still hope that the House would wish to do this.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that irrespective of the merits of the case, which are not being discussed now, most of us appreciate that there is a real urgency in this matter since it is without precedent for the House of Commons to withhold independence if there should be any risk in delaying matters? There are plenty of precedents to this effect, and this really is the last chance. Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore accept the co-operation of us all in this matter?

Mr. M. Foot

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he realises that he is putting the House of Commons to great inconvenience, which he obviously is, cannot he agree to a concession whereby we should have the Second Reading debate on Thursday and the subsequent stages of the Bill at a later time? It is extremely difficult, when we have a Second Reading debate and many controversial issues are involved in the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman admits that he is asking the House of Commons to undertake a great burden. Could he not make the concession that the Committee stage and further stages of the Bill should be taken at a later time than immediately following the Second Reading?

Mr. Lloyd

I would ask the House to leave it as it is today. We want to do the right thing, and I therefore adhere to my statement.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We must get on.

Mrs. Hart

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask a question.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady should understand that I am a servant of the House in this as in everything else, but we are trespassing so much on the business that we have appointed for the day.

Mrs. Hart

On a point of order. May I ask this question of you? We shall have the Bill before us on Thursday. Since there are less than two days between the announcement of the Secretary of State today and the time when we are to discuss the Bill, and in view of the unusual nature of this procedure, would it be possible for you to ask whether the Minister responsible would be prepared to answer some questions that hon. Members would like to put to him in order to clarify some of the issues before Thursday?

Mr. Speaker

That does not raise a question for me. I do not accept the mantle of responsibility for those matters.

Mr. M. Foot

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is an extremely important question, affecting the future of a whole British territory. Could you tell us what will be the procedure of the House of Commons in dealing with the Committee stage of the Bill? Will it be in order for hon. Members to submit manuscript Amendments, particularly in view of the fact that it appears that the normal procedure for putting down Amendments will not be available because, as I understand, the Bill itself is not yet available to the House? Surely special provision ought to be made on this account.

Mr. Lloyd

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, if I may explain the position. Agreement was only reached this morning. Notice will be given today and the Bill will be available at 3.30 tomorrow afternoon. It is a very short Bill indeed.

Mr. Foot

Further to that point of order—

Mr. Speaker

I cannot rule now on circumstances which will arise. I shall have to rule when they do arise.

Mr. Driberg

On a point of order. May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, as the guardian of our rights in this House, that there is one very exceptional circumstance which has not been mentioned or taken into account at all and that is that there is a postal dispute in progress? Some of us would have wished to write to the Archbishop of Malta to ask him how he interprets a particular Clause in the Bill which guarantees him freedom to exercise his spiritual functions and duties; but there would be no time to get a reply—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is not at that point on a point of order at all.