HC Deb 01 July 1965 vol 715 cc821-30
Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

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, 5TH JULY—Third Reading of the Rent Bill, until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, Report stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill, which will be continued on TUESDAY, 6TH JULY and WEDNESDAY, 7TH JULY and which it is hoped will be concluded on THURSDAY, 8TH JULY.

FRIDAY, 9TH JULY—Second Reading of the Gas (Borrowing Powers) Bill, and of the Public Works Loans Bill.

MONDAY, 12TH JULY—The proposed business will be: Remaining stages of the Redundancy Payments Bill.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

May I ask two questions? First, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his hope of concluding the Report stage of the Finance Bill in three and a half days is highly optimistic? I understand that already nearly 100 Government Amendments have been put down and that we have not dealt with the Corporation Tax part of the Bill. In view of that situation, I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that three and a half days will be inadequate?

Secondly, relating to the matter recently referred to by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) in regard to a debate on procedure, which I believe the Leader of the House promised us some time ago, although the primary cause of the trouble is the overloading of the programme and faulty drafting of Bills put forward, nevertheless there is a widespread feeling on both sides of the House that we ought to debate procedure. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman promise not to tuck away this debate on almost the last day this part of the Session?

Mr. Bowden

I accept at once that the Finance Bill is a big Bill and that many Amendments have been tabled for Report, but that is not by any means a record. In fact, I recall that two years ago, under a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, 226 Amendments were put down for the Report stage. We do not yet know which Amendments will be selected for consideration, but I think that three and a half days is adequate. Not only is it adequate, but it will be almost a record. I have been back over the last 50 years and find that it is almost a record. However, we shall see how we get on.

I hope that in debating the Bill next week the Opposition will take into consideration that they, in addition to the Government, have a responsibility to the House and that to take hon. Members on both sides through three days and nights of debating is quite unreasonable. With a bit of give-and-take on both sides, as is usual in the exchanges which take place on all Finance Bills, I think that we shall be able to do a good job.

On the second point raised by the right hon. and learned Member, I repeat that we shall have a debate on the two Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure during the present Session.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

Arising out of the answer to my first question, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is being quite unfair to the Opposition? On almost every occasion when the Motion to report Progress on the Finance Bill has been moved the Chancellor has congratulated the House on the progress which has been made.

Mr. Bowden

The right hon. and learned Member knows perfectly well that this is one of the courtesies of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The right hon. and learned Member will be aware that on the completion of the Committee stage of every Bill debated upstairs, no matter for how long the Committee has been sitting—this principle applied on the Gas Bill, a few years ago—the usual courtesies are exchanged.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House realise that as the summer has gone more and more hon. Members have come to think that the Committee stage of the Finance Bill ought to be taken upstairs? [An HON. MEMBER: "And strangled."] Does he realise that we have had no opportunity to discuss Vietnam since March and that since then there has been grave danger of major escalation of the war, that we have had no opportunity at all to discuss the Charter-breaking occupation of San Domingo which happened in April, that we have had no debate in this Parliament on disarmament, and that by the conduct of business which has been forced on my right hon. Friends the House is being deprived of one of its major functions since it cannot voice its views on world affairs?

Mr. Bowden

I hope that on Thursday of next week I shall be announcing the dates for a two-day foreign affairs debate.

On the question of the Finance Bill, I personally take the view, although perhaps no one would agree with me, that some of the delay is due to the fact that there is another contest going on at the same time.

Sir R. Nugent

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Motion No. 278?

[That this House urges that the traditional right of access to Members of Parliament by their constituents should be protected from abuse by delegations of excessive size which strain the resources of the Palace of Westminster, including the manpower of the police and officials of the House, to the prejudice of other individual members of the public who may wish to see their Members of Parliament.]

This Motion, in the names of some hon. and right hon. Friends and myself, calls attention to the situation which occurred in the Central Lobby of the Palace of Westminster yesterday. It was heavily crowded for the whole of business for seven or eight hours, more congested and noisy than I have ever known it before, and so impeding the traditional right of access—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must make proper progress with business questions. If many alternative suggestions are put during the currency of one question we do not.

Sir R. Nugent

In view of the impeding of the traditional right of access—[Interruption.] I am sorry if my words arouse such emotions—impeding the traditional right of access by individual members of the public who wish to come to see their Members of Parliament, although the police dealt with this quite adequately, will the Leader of the House take action to see that improved arrangements are made to regulate the numbers coming into the Central Lobby, in the interests of the House and of the general public?

Mr. Bowden

The right hon. Gentleman has asked about what happened yesterday. First, I think that I should remind the House that access to the Palace of Westminster is covered by a Sessional Order, which is passed at the beginning of each Session. It requires the police to keep the approaches of the Palace of Westminster free for constituents to visit their Members. This applies to constituents who come individually or in groups.

The difficulty which arose yesterday, and which has arisen on previous occasions, was that, although the police and the officials of the House allow only 100 constituents into the Lobby at the same time, a number of Members, quite rightly, arranged to book Committee and interview rooms to see their constituents, who then joined the group in the Central Lobby after the consultations, with the result that there was congestion.

It is very important that we should reserve the right of constituents to visit the Palace of Westminster. It is equally important that individuals who come here on the sort of occasions which happened yesterday should have the right to come in at the same time. Perhaps I might discuss this through the usual channels and with the officials of the House to see whether anything in addition is required. I am sure that the House will agree that the officials of the House and the police did a tremendously good job.

Mr. Orme

Has my right hon. Friend seen Motion No. 257 on the Order Paper, on the modernisation of Parliament? My hon. Friends and myself want to press for a debate. Many of us are highly dissatisfied with the progress of the Select Committee on Procedure. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not fair."] Whether it is fair or not—

Mr. Speaker

Order. In the general interest it would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman would remember that he is asking a supplementary question to a question. Otherwise, we deviate into speeches.

Mr. Orme

May I press my right hon. Friend for an early debate on this Motion? There is widespread interest in it in the House and outside, and we feel that some urgent action should be taken and that it should not just be left to Committees, which seem Ito be dawdling along.

[That this House is of the opinion that immediate action should be taken to bring Parliamentary procedure and the conduct of Government into line with modern developments; takes note that the protracted consideration of the Finance Bill and the subsequent all-night sittings which this has created, together with the archaic procedure which prevented for three hours the Prime Minister, on Thursday, 17th June, from making a statement of international importance, are two recent examples of the failure of the present system; and considers that it is useless for the Government, Opposition and Members of Parliament to call for the modernisation of Great Britain and the streamlining of trade unions and industry whilst themselves trying to carry on under a system which was evolved over 700 years and much of which has not yet reached the twentieth century; that this House therefore calls for immediate action to improve this and regards the protracted deliberations in the Committee of Procedure as not sufficiently speedy or drastic to meet modern demands; and urges that the following proposals should be dealt with as a matter of urgency: that the House should now meet in the morning on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and that the Parliamentary timetable should be revised accordingly to exclude any sittings later than 10 p.m., but that Standing Committees should continue to meet at their present times; that all major Bills should be taken upstairs in Committee and not on the Floor of the House; that Specialist Committees charged with the consideration of both legislation and broad administration of policy should immediately be introduced on an experimental basis; that the voting procedure is archaic and time-wasting and should be urgently reviewed and a method utilising modern techniques should be introduced, in order to make unnecessary the transport of sick Members to the Lobbies; that all speeches should be subject to a time limit extendable at the will of the House; that facilities in the House of Commons for Members are far below the required standard to carry out their duties efficiently; and that until it is possible in the long term to provide a new seat of Government designed for this purpose there should be very urgent steps taken to provide Members with separate office accommodation, hostel accommodation and far greater research facilities.]

Mr. Bowden

I think that the suggestion that the Select Committee on Procedure is dawdling is completely unfair. The Committee has done a tremendous job of work. We have already had two Reports. The Committee has, as I understand, just completed another consideration of Supply, which is a major job, as anyone who understands anything about it knows. It is important that the House should realise that no procedural change of any magnitude should be made by the House without the authority of the House and unless it arises from a considered view of the Select Committee on Procedure. We shall have a debate this Session. I would not like it to be thought that no procedural changes are made? In fact, not only in every Parliament but in every Session of Parliament some procedural changes or other are made.

Mr. Soames

In view of the assurance given to Service pensioners by the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues during the last election, and in view, also, of the fall in the value of the pension since then, can we expect a statement from the Government soon on their policy towards Service pensioners, and certainly before the end of this month?

Mr. Bowden

A statement has been promised. I will have to check to see when it is to be made.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the Government will be able to find a reasonably early date for the concluding stages of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill?

Mr. Bowden

Yes. It is the Government's intention to provide time for the remaining stages—Report and Third Reading—of the Bill, and, I hope, early enough to allow it to be considered in another place.

Mr. Marten

As the Labour Party claimed at the last election to be the party of great technological advance, could the Leader of the House say whether we shall have before we rise a debate on the much neglected subject of space?

Mr. Bowden

Almost the whole of the space between now and the end of the Session is in the hands of the Opposition. They could very easily choose this subject for a Supply day.

Mr. English

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Members of the House are as deeply concerned over its rather archaic facilities for working as they are over its procedure? When may we expect a report from the Select Committee on the Palace of Westminster, and a debate upon it?

Mr. Bowden

The Select Committee, which was set up arising out of Her Majesty's changed instructions for the control of the Palace of Westminster, is at present busily engaged on its work. I would hope that its Report would be out, if not by the end of July, at any rate early in August.

Mr. Lubbock

While thanking the Leader of the House for his assurance that on the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill the clear wishes of the majority of the House will not be frustrated by the bloodthirsty and wrecking tactics of a minority—[HON. MEMBERS: Oh.]

Mr. Speaker

I do not know how the Leader of House could answer that.

Mr. Lubbock

I have not finished my sentence, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman would try a bit that is in order it might be better.

Mr. Lubbock

I was about to ask the Leader of House whether he could be a little more precise about how the time can be found for the remaining stages of the Bill before the end of this part of the Session.

Further, may I ask him whether he has noticed that the Motion on the case of Timothy John Evans has now attracted more than 100 signatures? Can time be found to debate this case as well?

[That this House calls on the Secretary of State for the Home Department to carry out an investigation into the case of Timothy John Evans as he advocated in 1961, or to appoint a Judge of the High Court to hold a public inquiry for that purpose.]

Mr. Bowden

I cannot promise time this Session for a debate on Timothy John Evans.

Adequate time will be provided for the Report and Third Reading of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill. It may be neccessary to have a suspension of the rule on that evening.

Mr. William Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend say when the Government will discuss the Lords Amendments to the Trade Disputes Bill?

Is my information correct that the Government will provide facilities for my Parliament Bill, which comes up for Second Reading tomorrow, and which would have the effect of completely abolishing the delaying power of the peculiar place along the corridor?

Mr. Bowden

My hon. Friend's Parliament Bill will have to take its chance tomorrow in the normal way. We shall be considering the Lords Amendments to the Trades Disputes Bill and we shall take whatever action at the time that the Government feel is appropriate, with the approval of the House.

Mr. Sharples

When does the Prime Minister intend to make the long-promised statement on immigration? Will time be found to debate this subject before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Bowden

The hon. Gentleman is at fault when he describes the statement as "long promised". This comment was made after the Report of the Mountbatten Mission. It was said at the time that a statement would be made as soon as possible. I cannot give it any firm date at the moment. We are as anxious as anyone to make the statement quickly.

Mr. Rankin

Has my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House seen Motion No. 272, which deals with the increase of rents in Govan Parliamentary division? It requires correction only on one point, namely, where £4 19s. appears instead of £14 19s. May I say, Mr. Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] May I support what I am asking—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—by saying [HON. MEMBERS: "NO)."]—by drawing my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that my constituents in Govan regard these increases as unjustifiable and vicious, and think that they ought to be prevented?

[That this House takes note that Grenadier Properties of 233, Regents Park Road, London, N.3, propose to increase the rents of tenement houses in or about 129, Paisley Road in the division of the hon. Member for Govan from existing rentals including rates of £4 19s. 0d. per quarter to £22 15s. 0d. per quarter in one particular case and similar increases in the others; and that the property concerned is 100 years old or thereby, and urges Her Majesty's Government to take action to prevent such excessive charges.]

Mr. Bowden

I have seen my hon. Friend's Motion. I note the correction of £10. In fact, I understand that this is decontrolled property, but already the Protection from Eviction Act will cover it and give some protection, and the Rent Bill, which is about to leave this House—I hope on Monday next—will give added protection.

Mr. John Wells

Will the Leader of the House give close attention next week and in following weeks to the position of Ministers who are down to answer Question No. 35? During the past three weeks I have had Questions down to the Minister without Portfolio and I have deferred them week after week. Other hon. Members have had Questions down to the Attorney-General. This has happened week after week, owing to the poor progress which is made at Question Time. Will the Leader of the House consider taking serious steps to assist the Chair in speeding up Questions or else bring forward Question No. 35 as early as Question No. 15 or No. 20?

Mr. Bowden

I cannot promise that anything will be done in what remains of the present Session, but we will certainly look at this in relation to the next Session. I myself am in this position, in the matter of Questions to me. On a number of occasions I have just been beaten by the bell. We shall have to consider bringing the Minister without Portfolio and myself forward to an earlier time, into an earlier run of Questions.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

The House will have to assist by bringing this discussion to an end.

Mr. Warbey

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood that on questions relating to business it was the usual procedure to call at least those hon. Members who had been standing and seeking to catch your eye from the very moment when—

Mr. Speaker

Order. However long the hon. Gentleman has been trying, it is not his turn today. I cannot allow everybody to ask all the questions they want to ask. We would never get on. Mr. Diamond.