HC Deb 17 June 1965 vol 714 cc892-9
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, 21ST JUNE, and TUESDAY, 22ND JUNE—Committee stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill, which it is hoped to complete On WEDNESDAY, 23RD JUNE.

THURSDAY, 24TH JUNE—Remaining stages of the Monopolies and Mergers Bill.

Motion on the Import Duties (General) (No. 4) Order.

FRIDAY, 25TH JUNE—Remaining stages of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill.

MONDAY, 28TH JUNE—The proposed business will be: Supply [20th Allotted Day]: Committee.

A debate will take place on a subject to be announced later.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

May I return to the subject that I have raised on a number of occasions lately, that is, the question of a debate on foreign affairs, including Vietnam, at an early date? Would it assist the Leader of the House if I were to say that we would be willing to use one of our Supply days joined to a day given by the Government so that the House could have a two-day major debate on foreign affairs? If that is acceptable to the right hon. Gentleman, when might the debate be held?

Mr. Bowden

Yes, Sir, it does assist if the Opposition are prepared to provide one day so that the House could hold a two-day debate. We had better talk about the date through the usual channels, because, as the House will recall, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in response to Questions two days ago that he hopes very soon to make a statement. Perhaps it would be advisable to await that statement and then we can have talks through the usual channels about the date of a debate.

Mr. Orme

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, shortly before the Whitsun Recess, he promised an early debate on foreign affairs? A week has gone by since the Recess and next week's business still does not contain the promise of a debate. There is a great deal of urgency in this matter. Will he reconsider the possibility of such a debate next week?

Mr. Bowden

No, Sir. I cannot promise it next week. I am prepared to talk through the usual channels about the date, but I believe that we should await the Prime Minister's statement.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that, before Whit-sun, he said that the White Paper on the Government's land policy would be available after Whitsun. Can he now give a more precise indication of the date?

Mr. Bowden

No, Sir. But it will still be after Whitsun.

Mr. Wilkins

Has my right hon. Friend noted, in considering next week's business, the insatiable appetite of the Opposition to debate at inordinate length every Clause of the Finance Bill? Will not he try to accommodate them a little by offering Monday and Wednesday mornings for this purpose?

Mr. Bowden

The Bill is, of course, long. In addition to the time already taken, we are providing three days next week, which means 15 days in all for the Committee stage. That should be adequate. We had a morning sitting today. If we run true to form, we shall have morning sittings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week.

Mr. Heath

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Chief Secretary, when moving to report Progress early today after the sitting had lasted 19½ hours, thanked the Opposition, on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for their full co-operation throughout the Committee stage of the Finance Bill and, on previous occasions, has congratulated hon. Members on the brevity of their speeches?

Will the Leader of the House therefore firmly repudiate the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins)? Does not he also acknowledge the tremendous burden that he is putting on the Committee, when it begins further consideration of the Bill next week, in view of the fact that we have reached Clause 72 and that we must reach Clause 90 and deal also with the remaining Schedules and with the new Clauses? This is a very considerable burden to ask the Committee to undertake next week.

Mr. Bowden

I think that three days will be enough. Of course, we do not yet know what new Clauses will be selected. We shall have taken 15 days in all by Wednesday next week. This should provide sufficient time. If further time is necessary we would have to consider it.

What is important is to recognise that, in addition to the Government, the Opposition have a duty to oppose, to put their point of view. I have had experience in opposition to Finance Bills over many years and it has usually been possible, through exchanges between both Front Benches, to see a Finance Bill is carried through adequately and correctly with a proper amount of time.

Mr. Michael Foot

Reverting to the question of a debate on foreign affairs, will my right hon. Friend consider that, if it is possible for the Prime Minister to make a statement on Vietnam in the next few days, at the beginning of next week possibly, that might make it all the more necessary that we should have a debate? Will not he consider very seriously whether he could not alter the business for next Thursday so as to have a debate on foreign affairs so that the House of Commons may be able to say what it thinks on the most important question now before the nation?

Mr. Bowden

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point of view, but there is an argument on the other side of the coin. The fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is to make a statement means that it would be inadvisable to have an immediate debate. We had better await the statement.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider something that is not a matter of controversy between the two sides? It is that, at long last, we should have a debate on our procedure. We are being discourteous to the Select Committee on Procedure, which made a report some weeks ago and which we have not had the opportunity to consider. There is already disquiet on both sides of the House about the way in which Question Time is organised. I am told, for example, that it is now almost impossible to put a Question to the Prime Minister with a chance of an oral reply before August. I am not blaming either side, but this is a House of Commons matter which we should get down to.

There is also the question of the chaos which, I understand, was caused this morning as far as the Standing Committees were concerned.

There is also the Motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn), which is a matter of very great importance.

[That this House, recognising the normal duty of the Chair to give a casting vote when the voices are equal, declares that proposals for taxation of the people cannot he initiated by this means without infringing the constitutional rights of the Commons, and that the proceedings on postponed Clause 42 of the Finance Bill on 2nd June, 1965, are null and void.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman not say that it is the wish of both sides that we should have an early debate on procedure?

Mr. Bowden

I have clearly stated on a number of occasions that we shall have a debate on the two Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure. We shall have that debate before we rise at the end of July, and I hope that the House will take some action. I regret that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should think that we are treating the House discourteously. He may recall that the last Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, presented when he was Leader of the House under the last Administration, has still not been debated, although contained within that Report was what I might modestly describe as a good idea for timetabling Bills, which might have been helpful with the Finance Bill.

Mr. William Hamilton

Despite that last answer, may I add my support to what the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) has said, but amend it and suggest again that we should debate this Report during a morning sitting? This would satisfy both sides of the House. We would have the debate, and it would not interfere with the Government's legislative programme.

On the matter of the legislative programme, may I ask whether, as there are a limited number of days available to the Government between now and the end of July for legislative purposes, my right hon. Friend will seriously consider sitting into August, in view of the fact that the August Bank Holiday is now at the end of the month instead of at the beginning?

Mr. Bowden

I have already said so many times that we are to have a debate on procedure. It will be in Government time. I am sure that my hon. Friend realises that if he requires a special morning sitting to debate the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, that in itself requires a Motion of the House, which will take up further time of the House.

Sir K. Pickthorn

While I am sure that the House would be grateful, as I would, for any advice from the Select Committee on Procedure, or for any advice which might emerge from a debate on its Report, may I ask the Leader of the House whether, on the subject of my Motion about casting votes and their relation to taxation—though this is a matter for the whole House if ever a matter was one—he appreciates that it is the Government who have the advantage of any doubtfulness that there can be about this subject? The matter cannot be fully dealt with on a procedural basis, because the essence of it is that that procedure is a necessarily adjective matter, and a constitutional matter which transcends the competence of all Committees on Procedure.

The right hon. Gentleman reminded us a little while ago that the Opposition also had some duties in these matters. Will he remember that he has two duties in this matter, and that getting Government business through is not the higher of the two? Will he consider the rights of the rest of the House to have such a doubt set at rest the moment it is raised?

Mr. Bowden

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in advising me that he would raise this matter. I have looked at the precedents, and I think that he will agree that as far as Erskine May is concerned there is no doubt that the advice given to the Chairman at the time was in accordance with precedent.

This may not be the view of the House at the moment—that is not for me to say—but I do not think that a debate on this matter would get us very much further. On the other hand, if it was the general view of the House, as expressed through the usual channels, that the matter should be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure for its advice, I would be happy to do just that.

Mr. Zilliacus

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that whatever the nature of the Prime Minister's promised statement, a foreign affairs debate is highly important and very urgent and much wanted in the country? If it was a good thing for the Foreign Secretary to attend Oxford for a "teach-in" there, surely there is a case for having a two-day "teach-in" in the House of Commons?

Mr. Bowden

I agree about the importance of a foreign affairs debate, but I still think that we should await the statement by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Deedes

Is it proposed to suspend the rule for Friday's business?

Mr. Bowden

No, Sir. That is not normal on a Friday.

Mr. Pavitt

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the last time I asked him about the Summer Recess he told me that first he wanted to fix the Easter Recess. Since then he has in fact fixed the Easter Recess twice, and the Whitsun Recess has also come and gone. In view of the fact that many hon. Members wish to make holiday arrangements with their families, can he give us some indication of the dates of the Summer Recess?

Mr. Bowden

It is not usual, towards the end of June, or even early in July, to announce the actual dates for the Summer Recess. To be frank, I had hoped that we might get up at the end of July, probably on the 30th, but, if it is necessary to run into the early part of August, the fact that there is no Bank Holiday Monday then will make it easier to do so.

Mr. Stodart

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last night's proceedings in the Chamber prevented the Scottish Standing Committee from meeting this morning and discussing matters to do with births and deaths, which are most anxiously awaited by people in Scotland? Will he give an undertaking that the same sort of thing will not happen on the next occasion when the Committee is due to meet?

Mr. Bowden

I understand that there were certain difficulties about the staffing and manning of Standing Committees this morning. I hope that the House will exonerate the staff in this respect. The situation arose because of an unusually long sitting, and we shall see what can be done to obviate it in future.

Mr. Woodburn

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that when there is a scarcity of labour the solution is normally to use machinery? If there is a shortage of reporters, is it not justifiable to use tape recorders and not have a Committee ceasing to function because of the absence of reporters?

May I further ask whether, in regard to the whole matter being considered by the Select Committee on Procedure, he would agree that the House itself should modernise its procedure and not have stupid all-night sittings at which nobody can do his work properly?

Mr. Bowden

I should have thought that the terms of reference of the Select Committee on Procedure were wide enough to enable it to consider proposals for timetabling, which were dropped at the end of the last Session.

Mr. Lubbock

Even though the right hon. Gentleman cannot say whether we shall rise at the end of July, can he say how many days have so far been preempted for the Report and Third Reading stages of the Finance Bill and the other debates which he has promised, such as the one on the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure?

With further reference to the question asked by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he recalls that last week he said that he would be willing to have Wednesday morning sittings, provided that a majority of the House was in favour of them? Is he now modifying that by saying that there must be a Resolution of the House, debated on the Floor of the House, to enable that to be done? Would he accept the Motion on the Order Paper signed by two-thirds of the Members of the House who are not members of the Government?

[That this House, noting the desire of Her Majesty's Opposition to give detailed examination of all measures introduced by Her Majesty's Government, is of the opinion that the present hours of sitting imposes an onerous burden upon Her Majesty's Opposition in that such detailed examination often involves sittings late into the night, and therefore calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce immediately sittings to commence at 10.30 a.m. on each sitting day.]

Mr. Bowden

I think that it should be made clear that if the House desires morning sittings I shall not stand in the way of the House, but it needs a decision of the House, which means a Motion carried by the House, if it gets on the Order Paper. If it is the view of the House that we should have morning sittings, as we have had this morning, we can continue to have them on the Finance Bill. If that is the general view of the House, let us look at it.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Reverting to the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend, may I ask whether he is aware that no one on either side of the House feels that the staff, who serve us magnificently, require exoneration, but many doubt whether the same dispensation can be given to the Government's handling of business?

Mr. Bowden

I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that all the staff ought to be exonerated from any blame for what happened. I cannot accept that it was the Government's action which led to the situation which arose this morning. I would rather regard it as due to a lack of organisation and leadnership on the Opposition Front Bench.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I think that we must get on.

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