HC Deb 25 February 1965 vol 707 cc616-27
Sir Alec Douglas-Home

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

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Bowden)

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

MONDAY, 1ST MARCH—Supply [7th Allotted Day]: Committee stage of the Civil Estimates and Defence (Central) Estimate Vote on Account 1965–66, when a debate will arise on Civil Airlines.

TUESDAY, 2ND MARCH—Second Reading of the Firearms Bill.

Remaining stages of the War Damage Bill.

WEDNESDAY, 3RD MARCH and THURSDAY, 4TH MARCH—Debate on Defence, on a Government Motion inviting the House to approve the White Paper (Command No. 2592).

FRIDAY, 5TH MARCH—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 8TH MARCH—The proposed business will be: Supply [8th Allotted Day]: Army Estimates, 1965–66, will be considered in Committee on Vote A.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for two hours' suspension on the rule on the Army Estimates on Monday, 8th March?

Mr. Bowden

Yes, Sir, that is customary.

Mr. William Hamilton

Has my right hon. Friend—

Hon. Members

Ask Question No. Q5.

Mr. Hamilton

Another day.

Has my right hon. Friend seen Motion No. 107 on the Order Paper on the question of abortion law reform, which is supported by hon. Members from both sides of the House?

[That this House views with concern the present unsatisfactory state of the law in relation to abortion, due to difficulties of interpretation of the existing law; deplores a situation in which pregnant women who can afford sympathetic and skilled treatment can obtain an abortion on health grounds, while those who lack the means to seek proper advice are driven to take desperate and often harmful or fatal measures; and therefore calls for revision of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, so as to clarify and liberalise the law with a view to reducing the horror and danger of illegal abortions.]

Can my right hon. Friend give me an undertaking that this matter might be considered in the same way as the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill, namely, that a Private Member's Bill might be given facilities by the Government, particularly since there are many thousands of much more worthy citizens involved in this matter than there are in the Murder Bill?

Mr. Bowden

I appreciate the interest in this subject, but I cannot promise any time in the immediate future. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is answering a Question in March. Perhaps we had better await the reply which he is making on that occasion.

Sir D. Glover

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman when may we expect a debate, or time to be allowed for a debate, on Motion No. 90, on South Vietnam, in the names of some of his hon. Friends?

[That this House, realising that British policy in regard to Vietnam is based upon acceptance in principle of the 1954 Geneva Declaration, that United States policy springs from non-acceptance of that Declaration, and that therefore on this point the objectives of the two countries cannot be the same, expresses the urgent hope that the British Government will take an early initiative in order to bring about a cease-fire and a political settlement which is essential to the reestablishment of peace.]

There is a great deal of concern in the country over events in South-East Asia, and as quite a lot of Government policy is involved in this may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he does not think that an early date should be devoted to the subject?

Mr. Bowden

I am genuinely concerned to have a debate on foreign affairs as soon as it can be arranged, as I said last week. The trouble is that we are running at the moment into spring Supply and nine or 10 days during the next three or four weeks are at the disposal of the Opposition. This is normal at this time of the year.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Can my right hon. Friend provide time to debate the important and imaginative Government statement on the future of the arts?

Mr. Bowden

We had better see how we go on. This Report has only just been published.

Mr. Grimond

Am I right in thinking that there will be no legislation concerning regional development? In view of the statement made today by the First Secretary, together with other promised statements, will the right hon. Gentleman consider finding time to debate this subject in due course?

Mr. Bowden

I think that in due course we should have a debate, but I cannot promise anything immediately.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

On the question of the Motion on South Vietnam, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that I was perfectly content with the answer which he gave last Thursday to my question about a debate on foreign affairs?

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the Motion on the Order Paper in the names of some of my hon. Friends and myself on the complaint about privilege made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey)?

[That, in the opinion of this House, the publications of which the hon. Member for Ashfield complained on Monday, 22nd February, 1965, are a deliberate and unequivocal direct attack upon the hon. Member's honour, good faith, integrity and loyalty in the discharge of his parliamentary duties, and by implication also upon those of the many hon. Members on all sides of the House who have from time to time paid visits to foreign countries, some of them not recognised by Her Majesty's Government, in pursuit of their duties and obligations as Members and that this House therefore considers that the question whether the said publications do in fact constitute a contempt of Parliament should be considered and reported upon by the Committee of Privileges.]

Does my right hon. Friend think that some special time—it would not require very much—could be granted by the Government so that the House can express its opinion on that Motion?

Mr. Bowden

I have been giving this some thought since I saw the Motion on the Order Paper this morning. In the first place, for the benefit of some hon. Gentlemen, perhaps on both sides of the House—new Members who are not au fait with our procedure—it should be clearly understood that the appearance of this Motion on the Order Paper is no reflection whatever on the action of the Chair in declaring that this matter was not prima facie a breach of privilege.

On the Motion itself, I have read carefully the article referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey) and there is no doubt that it implied that he has, or had, associations with Communist Front organisations. I think that the House has a right, as my hon. Friend is of opinion that his honour and integrity have been impugned, to voice its opinion on this and to decide whether it feels that the matter should be referred to the Committee of Privileges. There is no immediate need, because the Committee of Privileges has a case before it at present.

I intend to provide a small amount of time within the reasonably near future for the House to debate this matter, but I remind the House that on that occasion it will not be a Government or an Opposition matter. This is a matter for the House as such.

Sir Rolf Dudley Williams

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the Motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) to be discussed tomorrow week, to ensure that the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill is brought back to the Floor of the House for its Committee stage? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, when the Bill was originally discussed, it was strongly felt by both retentionists and abolitionists that its Committee stage should be taken on the Floor of the House, and will he on this occasion ensure that the Patronage Secretary does not put the Whips on in order to send the Bill back again to Standing Committee?

[To call attention to the need to debate the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill in Committee of the whole House; and to move, That Standing Committee C be discharged from further consideration of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill and that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.]

Mr. Bowden

I notice that the Motion is down for discussion a week tomorrow, and I hope to be in my place to take part in the debate on that occasion. I cannot possibly forecast what the result of the debate is likely to be.

Mr. Heath

May I press the Leader of the House further on the answer which he gave a few moments ago in which, as I understood him, he was contemplating that, when Mr. Speaker has ruled that there is no prima facie case and the House itself does not wish to take the matter as one of privilege, it is, nevertheless, right to give time to any hon. Member who feels that his honour has been in some way impugned by a newspaper report? If this were right, I suggest that, during the Common Market negotiations, I might have been demanding two hours a day from the House.

Mr. Bowden

As I see the position, when Mr. Speaker rules that a matter is not prima facie a breach of privilege, and ought not to receive precedence over the Orders of the Day, he is on that occasion ruling that it is not a matter which should be discussed then, and he usually says—I cannot recall whether he did on this occasion—that it is a matter for the House. The only way the House can refer to it is by putting down a Motion.

As I have said, I have looked at the Motion and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey) feels that his honour has been impugned—I should deal with it in the same way as regards any other Member—I think that a short time ought to be provided for him to defend himself.

Mr. Iain Macleod

I am not objecting to the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman has made, but will he take this as a very serious point? Does he realise that, quite apart from any individual issues, there is here concerned a very important matter of the freedom of the Press? The whole of the Press has always thought, rightly or wrongly—[Interruption.] I am putting a question on business.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since this is a matter of privilege, and since, if there has been any breach of privilege whatever, as to which I express no opinion, it is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) who committed it, ought he not, in compliance with the normal traditions of the House, to refrain from commenting on it until the House has had an opportunity to express a view?

Mr. Speaker

The precise position is that the Leader of the House has said that he proposes to provide some time for discussion of the Motion. In these circumstances, if the House will take my advice, it will not attempt to discuss the matter now. No doubt, considerations which make it thought that that course is undesirable can be raised when we come to the debate.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Irrespective of the matter concerned, we are discussing the allocation of business. The point I wish to put to the Leader of the House is that such great issues are involved—I do not go into them—that it must be wrong to assume that this is a matter which can be disposed of in a short time. It is a most serious and important matter, and that was the question, strictly on the allocation of time, which I take to be in order, that I wished to put to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Speaker

I was diverted by the other considerations raised. It is, of course, undeniable that that is in order.

Mr. Bowden

I was under the impression that the right hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues felt that this ought not to be debated. We are now being told that it ought to be debated at length. I am in the hands of the House on this. All I say is that I think it is a matter which ought to be looked at, and we cannot do other than decide whether, in the view of the House, it ought to go to the Committee.

Mr. Hooson

As Wales now has a Secretary of State and, from today, has an Economic Planning Council, does the Leader of the House intend to provide more time for debating Welsh affairs on the Floor of the House, or in the Welsh Grand Committee this Session?

Mr. Bowden

There is the normal arrangement for debating Welsh affairs on the Floor of the House and in the Welsh Grand Committee. We might, perhaps, have discussions about it, but I cannot promise very much more time on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Charles Morris

Has my right hon. Friend noted early day Motion No. 77, signed by several of my hon. Friends and myself relating to the doctrinaire, repetitive and monstrous blocking by certain hon. Members opposite of a Private Bill promoted by the Manchester Corporation? Will he have discussions with the Chairman of Ways and Means with a view to facilitating an early debate on this subject?

[That this House, while recognising the right of an individual Member to object to Private Bills promoted by responsible local authorities, regrets the actions of Members of Her Majesty's Opposition, whose indiscriminate use of the precedure of objection, particularly in regard to the Manchester Corporation Bill, can have deleterious effects on the health, welfare, and industrial well-being of the city and its citizens.]

Mr. Bowden

It is most unusual for the Leader of the House to interfere with the selection by the Chairman of Ways and Means of Bills which come before the House or in any way to deal with them. All I am asked to do is to provide time when he wants time on the Floor. I think that we should be very careful, whatever we may feel about the procedure on Private Bills, about altering the precedure unless the Select Committee on Procedure should recommend otherwise.

Mr. Ridsdale

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the Motion on the transfer of the rate burden? May we have an early debate on this subject, because the failure to transfer some of the burden from the local authorities to the national Exchequer is affecting local people very greatly indeed?

[That this House deplores the delay of the Government in bringing about an early transfer of at least part of the educational rate from the local authorities to the central Exchequer; draws the attention of the House to the burden this is placing on the retired and others, especially in areas with little industry; and urges the Government to take urgent action to remedy this.]

Mr. Bowden

The Allen Report is being made available today and the Government's review of local authority finance is at present taking place. Perhaps we had better wait to have both reports together until we have a debate.

Sir D. Renton

Without going into the merits of the matter, may I refer once more to the complaint of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey)? Could the Leader of the House tell us whether, in deciding that time should be given to this matter, it was he himself or the hon. Member who judged that the complaint required time to be given? Secondly, if it was the Leader of the House who decided it, will he say whether he did so as Leader of the House or as Chairman of the Committee of Privileges?

Mr. Bowden

I rather resent the implication there that my hon. Friend has approached me to give time. I have not discussed this with him at all. In my view, this is an occasion when time should be given. It is a decision which I have to make. It may be a wrong one, but that is my decision.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that I carefully refrained from approaching him in any way before putting the Motion on the Order Paper and that I was prompted to consider the advisability of putting it down because of what Mr. Speaker said in giving his Ruling against a prima facie case?

Mr. Speaker

Despite his great perception, I very much doubt the purpose of asking the Leader of the House about the undisclosed motives of the hon. Gentleman in that matter.

Mr. Warbey

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) used the words, "the hon. Member", but he did not say which hon. Member. For the sake of the record of the proceedings of the House, should not the right hon. and learned Gentleman indicate to which hon. Member he was referring?

Sir D. Renton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did, in the early part of my question, refer to the "hon. Member for Ashfield". When I referred, at the end of my question, to the "hon. Member", I naturally still meant the hon. Member for Ashfield. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has now given an explanation of the position and I fully accept his statement.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would be greately assisted if the House would help me to get on with business questions.

Sir G. Nicholson

Does not the Leader of the House agree that questions of privilege are matters for the House and are not party political questions? Does not his action in himself moving the reference to the Committee of Privileges in a recent case, instead of leaving it to the hon. Member who raised the question, rather infringe upon that tradition?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The practice adopted the other day cannot be the subject matter of a business question this day.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Will the Leader of the House bear in mind that hardly another hon. Member would share the views of his hon. Friends about the Government White Paper on the Arts, launched yesterday with such a blaze of misleading publicity and containing, as it does, a considerable number of highly political attacks on various individuals? May we have an assurance that we can have an early debate on the White Paper, and that a full day will be allocated?

Mr. Bowden

I have already said that I think we should wait a little while for this one.

Mr. Grimond

I apologise for returning to the Motion on privilege, but I understand that the Motion asks that the matter be referred to the Committee of Privileges. I do not wish to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman, who has a dual capacity in this matter, but am I right in thinking that the House would be entitled to dispose of a matter of privilege, one way or the other, without referring it to the Committee? Will the proposed debate be conducted in such a way that, if the House so desired, it could dispose of the matter in the House and that it will not be bound simply to decide whether or not the issue should go to the Committee of Privileges?

Mr. Bowden

This is a matter for the House. The Motion would refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges, but it would be in order for the House to dispose of the matter when it debated it.

Mr. Higgins

Are we to understand that, after the delay in publishing the Allen Committee's Report, there is to be yet further delay while we await the report of another Government Committee before we have the opportunity to debate this important issue? Are not the two points quite separate? Is not the one concerned with the division of the rates burden between different parts of the country and the other with expenditure as divided between the Exchequer and the local authorities? Can we have an early debate on the Allen Committee's Report without waiting still further for the next report?

Mr. Bowden

The Allen Report has only been laid before the House today. If the Government's own review of local authority finance takes a very long time, perhaps there will be something in what the hon. Gentleman has said. I would prefer to look at this matter again.

Sir G. Nicholson

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake that, on all future occasions when a question of privilege arises, the decision should be left to the free vote of the House?

Mr. Bowden

I would have thought that this is a matter for a particular occasion. This is something that we should look at. There is nothing unusual in the Leader of the House moving that a matter be referred to the Committee of Privileges. That was my view last week. It has been done very often in the past. It certainly happened under the previous Administration. But, of course it need not always be so.

Mr. Chataway

As the Secretary of State for Education and Science was mistaken last week in saying that the minor works programme for schools is to be increased—it is, admittedly, to be reduced by £2 million—and although this was, no doubt, a genuine mistake, will the right hon. Gentleman consider, in view of the disappointment caused by the decision, giving time to the Motion on the Order Paper standing in my name and the names of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends?

[That this House notes the termination by the Government of the scheme whereby local education authorities enjoyed discretion to proceed with improvements to school buildings where the cost of the improvement was less than £2,000; regrets that this action by the Government will mean considerably less being spent on school building improvement in 1965–66 than in 1964–65, and will also result in unnecessary administrative delays in the commencement of important improvement projects; and shares the deep concern already expressed by teachers, local education authorities and chief education officers throughout the country as to the damaging effect that the Government's action will have on the programme to modernise schools.]

Mr. Bowden

I cannot promise time for a debate.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

May I draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the Motion in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends concerning the refusal by the Minister of Transport to receive a delegation? Despite the reply that the right hon. Gentleman gave to a somewhat similar question two weeks ago, the Minister has received no deputations on this question. Moreover, at the meeting of the deputation with officials, the officials were so ill-informed on the matter that it was a total waste of time. This matter does really need a debate in the House unless the Minister of Transport will receive a delegation of this nature.

[That this House, being aware that, despite the statement of the Leader of the House on Thursday, 11th February, no Minister has received any delegation from Devon County Council and Teignmouth Urban Council to receive representations concerning the redevelopment of the war-damaged centre of Teignmouth, calls upon the Minister of Transport to receive such a delegation.]

Mr. Bowden

I have checked my words on this point. I did not say that the Minister had received a delegation. It was, of course, officials who received the delegation on 23rd December. I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Bessell

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the Motion standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and my name concerning the latest proposals under the Beeching plan and the anxiety felt in the South-West and many other remote regions? Will he allow time to debate this urgent matter?

[That this House, conscious of the vital significance of railways in any plan for regional development, notes with concern many of the proposals contained in Dr. Beeching's latest plan and their likely effect upon regional plans, and calls for a debate as a matter of urgency.]

Mr. Bowden

We must give a little time for Lord Hinton to look at this problem before we debate it in the House.