HC Deb 04 March 1965 vol 707 cc1524-38
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 8TH MARCH—Supply [8th Allotted Day]: Army Estimates 1965–66, will be considered in Committee on Vote A.

TUESDAY, 9TH MARCH—Remaining stages of the Cereals Marketing Bill, and of the Museum of London Bill [Lords], and Third Reading of the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Bill.

Motion on Water Resources Order.

WEDNESDAY l0TH MARCH—Supply [9th Allotted day]: Air Estimates 1965–66, will be considered in Committee on Vote A.

THURSDAY 11TH MARCH—Supply [10th Allotted day]: Navy Estimates 1965–66, will be considered in Committee on Vote A.

FRIDAY, 12TH MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 15TH MARCH—The proposed business will be: Supply [11th Allotted Day]: Committee. Service Money Votes.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Can the Leader of the House let us know now when his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is likely to introduce his Budget?

Mr. Bowden

No, Sir, but I hope to announce the date next week.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

Will the Leader of the House tell us what his intentions are with regard to Motion No. 122, in the name of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman)?

[That, in the opinion of this House, the publications of which the honourable Member for Ashfield complained on Monday 22nd February, 1965, are a deliberate and unequivocal direct attack upon the honourable Member's honour, good faith, integrity and loyalty in the discharge of his parliamentary duties, and by implication also upon those of the many honourable 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.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we regret very much that he has not found it possible to provide time for this Motion to be debated next week? We realise that there are certain difficulties about next week's business, in view of the amount of time devoted to the business of Supply, but will he provide an early opportunity to debate this matter? Is he aware that, if it is to be debated, we consider that it should be the first Order of the Day and that there should be adequate time for its discussion?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman take it that it is our intention to treat it as a House of Commons matter, not a party one, and that, if it comes to a Division, it will be very much our wish that it should be on a free vote of the House?

Mr. Bowden

I confirm what I said last week, that I, too, hope that this will be a House of Commons matter, not a party one. I shall provide a small amount of time, not next week, but certainly the week after.

Mr. Grimond

Further to the question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), has the Leader of the House noted that there is now an Amendment to the Motion in the name of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and some of his colleagues?

[Leave out from "1965" to end and add: "do not constitute a contempt of this House or a breach of privilege and to treat them as such would involve an unwarrantable interference with the freedom of the Press".]

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a member of the Committee of Privileges. It is perfectly proper to put down this Amendment, but could the Leader of the House say whether, as the Committee of Privileges is at least a quasijudicial, if not a judicial, body, we may take it that, if members of the Committee want to take part in the debate, and the original Motion is carried, they will not take part in the proceedings of the Committee of Privileges?

Mr. Bowden

I cannot say, or even attempt to rule, what the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral ought or ought not to do, but, as far as I am concerned, as Chairman of the Committee of Privileges, I should not take part in the debate.

Mr. Mendelson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, since the Foreign Secretary answered Questions on Vietnam and pledged the support of Her Majesty's Government for retaliatory American action against North Vietnam, there has been a grave change of policy and the war has been extended into North Vietnam? Is he aware that large sections of the Labour and trade union movement in this country are opposed to this policy? Is it not, therefore, urgent that the Foreign Secretary or my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should at the earliest opportunity make a full statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy?

Mr. Bowden

I cannot add to what I said last week on this matter. I cannot promise a debate at once, but we shall certainly consider the question of a statement.

Mr. Hogg

Reverting to Motion No. 122 and the Amendment thereto, the right hon. Gentleman said that he would give a small amount of time in the week after next. Is he aware that the provision of a small amount of time will not satisfy many hon. Members, and that, in the view of many of us, the matter raises serious questions about the freedom of the Press? Does the Leader of the House realise that, if the Motion were carried, editors of newspapers and others would be subject to the possibility of pains and penalties? Is it not vital that these matters should receive very full discussion and they should not be left unduly long undebated in the House, especially as the right hon. Gentleman himself believed, and said, that the reason for giving time for the Motion was the question of the honour of an hon. Member of the House?

Mr. Bowden

The House will probably recall that last week some of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's colleagues thought that a debate was unnecessary. We are now being asked for a full debate. I cannot go beyond what I have already said, that some time will be provided the week after next.

I would rather not commit myself about the content of the debate, except, perhaps, to remind the House that if, in the view of a number of right hon. and hon. Members, the question of the freedom of the Press is involved, there are other freedoms to be watched as well.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the only question raised in my Motion is whether or not the matter should be referred to the Committee of Privileges, and that the more Amendments there are and the more comments there are in the House of Commons, one way or the other, the more clear it becomes that this is a difficult, complex question and that it is in accordance with the tradition of the House that the Committee of Privileges should first consider it and the House should then debate it on the Committee's report?

Is not that our usual custom, and is it not now clear that there is ample matter to be so considered by the Committee of Privileges, and would not the interests of all parties be best served if the Motion were accepted without debate and the Committee of Privileges were asked to consider it?

Mr. Bowden

This is really an argument for the point I have been making, that we should have a short debate purely on the question whether or not this matter should be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

Mr. Hogg

Is not the Leader of the House aware that the description of his Motion by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) is not correct, but that it makes a direct allegation that the matters complained of are a deliberate, unequivocal and direct attack upon an hon. Member's honour, good faith, integrity and loyalty? Will the right hon. Gentleman take it that many of us do not accept that description, or think it proper that a Motion to remit to the Committee of Privileges the whole issue for consideration by the Committee be prejudiced by such allegation?

Mr. Speaker

In the interests of business, we had better wait until we come to discuss it.

Mr. Fell

Yesterday, the Leader of the House was kind enough to say that he thought the Select Committee on Procedure should consider the matter of Questions—I raise this matter now only because the right hon. Gentleman was not able to be here earlier today—and that the Select Committee, if it wished, could introduce an interim report at almost any point.

I am worried about Questions next week and the following week. Will the right hon. Gentleman please look at tomorrow morning's HANSARD to see what went on this afternoon, as new and undesirable practices are growing up?

Mr. Bowden

I will look at HANSARD tomorrow. I have already written to the secretary of the Select Committee on Procedure, pointing out our discussion yesterday.

Mr. Simon Mahon

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the Motion, standing in my name and the names of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, which condemns the action of the B.B.C. in outraging the feelings of the people of Merseyside, in particular, and millions of television viewers in general, and which concludes by calling for an immediate improvement in the standards of such transmissions and demanding a public apology?

[That this House condemns the action of the British Broadcasting Corporation who have outraged the conscience of the people of Merseyside in particular, and millions of television viewers in general, by transmitting a disgusting and grossly offensive sketch in their production, Not So Much a Programme—More a Way of Life, on Saturday, 27th February, 1965; deplores this flagrant and nauseating attack on the dignity of family life; calls for an immediate improvement in the standard of such transmissions; and demands a public apology by the British Broadcasting Corporation.]

May I point out to my right hon. Friend that, since this Motion was tabled, I have received an apology from Sir Hugh Greene which, in part, I accepted but which, I also believe, underlines the necessity for an early debate on these standards? I therefore ask my right hon. Friend, in view of the grave concern which has been expressed both on Merseyside and throughout the country, to allow us to have an early debate on this most important aspect of our affairs.

Mr. Bowden

I would think that the majority of hon. Members on both sides would deprecate this form of sick humour, but I do not know whether we should help by debating the matter in the House. It would simply advertise it. It would, perhaps, be better to leave it where it is; the B.B.C. will have noted it. Perhaps some time we can have a debate on the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. generally, but to select that particular item may not be as helpful as my hon. Friend thinks.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider using the hour from eleven o'clock to noon on Friday next week as Question Time and, if it were successful, continuing it?

Mr. Bowden

I would prefer to await the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure.

Mr. Simon Mahon

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In my Motion I have not asked for this particular item to be debated, but for the whole standard of transmissions of the B.B.C. to be debated.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that that is correct, but it does not raise a point of order.

Mr. Paget

Will the Leader of the House also take note that a considerable number of hon. Members object to the claim of any sect or religion to place a gag on free discussion?

Mr. Bowden

That may be so, but there is also a very large number of hon. Members who deprecate any reference of this sort about any religion.

Sir F. Bennett

Whatever our individual views may be about the situation in Vietnam, week after week we are told, for one reason or another, that we cannot have a debate. A Motion against the Government's policy has been put down by no fewer than 60 Members opposite—

[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 re-establishment of peace.]

while an Amendment to it is supported by only two hon. Members opposite.

[In line 1, leave out from "House" to end and add "supports the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the situation in Vietnam and affirms the common aims of Her Majesty's Government and the United States of America".]

Is not this humiliating to the Government and should not we have a debate to set the record straight?

Mr. Bowden

Not at all. I cannot promise any time at the moment in view of the questions of Supply before us.

Mr. Lipton

Has my right hon. Friend noted the continued obstruction of my Protection of Deer Bill by a tiny, unrepresentative and blood-thirsty minority? Will he ask the Select Committee on Procedure, as a matter of urgency, to take steps to bring to an end this undemocratic and anti-social conduct by a few hon. Members, which is frustrating the will of the great majority of the public and of hon. Members?

Mr. Bowden

While not accepting my hon. Friend's description of the objectors, I would remind him that this matter is already before the Select Committee on Procedure as a result of discussion which took place during the last Session of the last Parliament on this item in particular and on which no decision was taken.

Mr. William Yates

May I recall the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the request made by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) concerning a debate on Vietnam? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that if, during this week, it becomes necessary for Britain to intervene, or to assist the United States, before such action takes place he will arrange for a statement to be made to the House?

Secondly, if it is not possible for a foreign affairs debate to be held next week, will the right hon. Gentleman also consider that there is serious trouble about the extraction of Jordan waters in the Middle East by the State of Israel and that a foreign affairs debate is absolutely essential?

Mr. Bowden

I have said on two occasions during business exchanges on Thursdays that I accept that we should have a foreign affairs debate as soon as possible. But it is not possible in the immediate future.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

As my right hon. Friend requested the Select Committee on Procedure to consider Questions to Ministers, will he also take up the suggestion that Scottish Questions might be considered by the Scottish Grand Committee?

Mr. Bowden

No, Sir. That is much too revolutionary a suggestion.

Mr. Ridley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that since the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) has been transferred to the Department of Education and Science, she has successfully dodged her Questions, addressed to the Ministry of Public Building and Works, for next Monday? Will he, therefore, provide an early opportunity for a debate on the arts?

Mr. Bowden

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science has not dodged her Questions, nor has any desire to do so. This is simply an arrangement of the roster and we can see no possibility of altering it, because once one begins to alter the jigsaw everyone else complains.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

In view of the far-reaching statement made by the Minister of Technology on Monday, will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House consider making time available for a debate on the computer industry?

Mr. Bowden

I will consider it.

Dame Irene Ward

When are we to have the promised debate on the arts? The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) has now been transferred from the Ministry of Public Building and Works to the Department of Education and Science and, since many of us have waited a very long time to be able to ask her Questions, could not she kindly come to the House and ask permission to answer Questions next Monday? Surely that would put the matter in order and everyone would be satisfied.

Mr. Bowden

That would throw the roster out and everyone else would complain about the fate of their own Questions. I appreciate, however, that we should at some point discuss the White Paper on the Arts. But not yet.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the Motion standing in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends, criticising a speech made by Sir George Bolton, a director of the Bank of England?

[That this House believes that the speech by Sir George Bolton in London on 24th February was unworthy of a director of the Bank of England.]

Will my right hon. Friend provide an opportunity to debate the matter so that this House may decide what the line should be between legitimate criticism and sabotage?

Mr. Bowden

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has replied on this point in a Written Answer today. I cannot provide time for discussion in the near future.

Sir D. Glover

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable support on both sides of the House for the Motion in the name of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) relating to the disgraceful performance of the B.B.C., that there is strong feeling in the country and that he should give time for debate?

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is difficulty about this. Supplementary questions on business questions do not have different rules from other supplementaries. They are out of order if an hon. Gentleman asks again for an answer to a question already answered by the Leader of the House.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Who will answer Questions for the Prime Minister whilst he is in. Germany? If it is to be the First Secretary of State, can we have an assurance that he will be here?

Mr. Bowden

I do not expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to be absent on any of his Question days but, should that happen, then, of course, my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State will answer.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Has the Leader of the House noticed the series of remarkable coincidences on the Order Paper, whereby, after a Question has been put down by an hon. Member on this side of the House, rather high on the list of Questions, similar Questions are put down by one or two hon. Members opposite? Is this not part of the trouble that he was talking about yesterday, and does it not lead hon. Members on this side of the House into some elliptical phraseology in order to preserve flexibility? Does he not deprecate this practice and, if so, will he try to discourage it?

Mr. Bowden

I certainly do not intend to attempt to interfere with any Questions which an hon. Member puts on the Order Paper. I do not intend to get involved in the battle of the Order Paper.

Mr. Heath

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider one addition to the Order Paper which would be of great assistance to the House? During recent years, we have moved considerably towards putting additional information on the Order Paper. Will he now consider putting on the Order Paper, on those days to which it applies, notice of any statements to be made by Ministers in the course of the day's business, so that those interested will know what is to come?

Will he also arrange with his colleagues that they answer those Questions which are a long way down the Order Paper, and which would, therefore, not normally be reached, only on their own Question days, so that those interested would be here?

Mr. Bowden

The reply to the hon. Gentleman's first question is that we already put this information in the Lobby. The changes on the Order Paper to which the right hon. Gentleman refers arose out of a recommendation from last year's Select Committee on Procedure. The present Committee might consider the matter. We do not expect any change on the second issue.

Mr. Anthony Boyle

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the Motion, which appears in my name and the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends, relating to the attitude of the Minister of Transport in breaking yet one more Labour Party election promise about the Richmond-Broad Street railway line? Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on this subject?

[That this House views with concern the dilatory attitude of the Minister of Transport regarding the continued uncertainty about the future of passenger services on the Richmond to Broad Street railway line; and urges the Minister to implement the pledges made during the general election campaign and the assurances given by the Parliamentary Secretary to this House on 11th December, 1964.]

Mr. Bowden

I cannot promise time, but I understand that the Railways Board has recently issued a statement on this subject.

Mr. Snow

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in yesterday's debate the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition worked himself into a considerable passion about ceremonial dress for the R.A.F.? Will he arrange for a frank and full statement about this problem in Wednesday's debate on the Air Estimates?

Mr. Speaker

That has a little too much ceremonial for getting on with business questions.

Mr. Thorpe

To revert to the subject of Vietnam, although the Leader of the House is unable to provide time for a debate next week, will he bear in mind that there are many hon. Members who are gravely concerned about the present situation and who believe that it could well lead to a war which neither side could win and which neither side could afford to lose?

Will he also bear in mind that there are hon. Gentlemen who do not share the apparent enthusiasm of Her Majesty's Government for American policies? In those circumstances, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary whether a statement can be made early next week, so that this matter can be considered by the House?

Mr. Bowden

I have already said that if a statement is thought to be helpful, one will be made. I will certainly discuss this with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. William Clark

The right hon. Gentleman said that the subject of the Motion No. 122 would be a House of Commons matter. Will he confirm that it will result in a free vote?

Mr. Bowden

I do not know how I can be more specific than I have already been. It will be a free vote and on this side of the House the Whips will not be on.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen a Motion, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), on the transfer of the rate burden, or part of the education rate burden, to the Exchequer? Now that the Allen Committee's Report has been published, will be say whether there will be an early debate on the subject of the rate burden?

[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

I repeat what I said last week, when the Allen Committee had just reported. We have now had it a week. It is a detailed and complicated Report, as hon. Members will be aware. If we are able to debate the Allen Report together with the review which the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is now carrying out, there will be some advantage, but, if not, we will hold back the Allen Report for a later date.

Mr. Channon

When the right hon. Gentleman has read what has happened today at Question Time, will he make absolutely certain that there is no discrimination between the two sides of the House when Questions are taken together? Perhaps unintentionally, the President of the Board of Trade today did not take one of my Questions together with similar Questions from hon. Members opposite. If this practice is to be followed, there must be fairness between the two sides, or the practice will easily lead to abuse.

Mr. Bowden

I should like to look at that.

Mr. Lubbock

I understand that there will be the normal two hours' extension for next Wednesday's and next Thursday's business. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this practice for the future, bearing in mind that only a dozen hon. Members turn up to listen to the Navy and Air Force Estimates debates?

Mr. Bowden

For the last six or seven years, it has been the practice to suspend the rule for a period of two hours. If the time is not taken up, that does not really matter, but the right should be there if hon. Members wish the debate to continue.

Mr. Farr

Is time to be allowed for a continuation of the discussion on Statutory Instruments Nos. 65 and 66? As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, last Thursday Mr. Deputy-Speaker ruled, under Standing Order No. 100, that insufficient time had been given to the House to consider these important Regulations. I should be most grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could inform the House when time will be provided for the debate to be continued.

Mr. Bowden

I am aware of the need for the Prayers to be taken at the earliest possible moment. There are difficulties next week because of the two hours' suspension on each of several days, but we will do our best to see that the Prayers do not run out of time.

Mr. George Y. Mackie

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the important Highland Development Bill is likely to be taken?

Mr. Bowden

Not without notice.

Mr. Baxter

As my right hon. Friend is inclined to allow free votes of the House on particular issues, is he prepared to have a free vote of the House on the Army, Navy and Air Force Estimates?

Mr. Kershaw rose

Mr. Speaker

The Clerk will now proceed to read the Orders of the Day.

Mr. Kershaw

I rose to ask a question on business, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I did not see the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Kershaw rose

Mr. Speaker

In no circumstances must the hon. Gentleman remain standing while I am on my feet. I am sorry that I did not see the hon. Gentleman, but, in fact, I did not. We had better get on with what we have to do.

Mr. Kershaw

On a point of order. While I accept that if hon. Members will sit rather behind the Chair, as I have been doing, it is difficult for the Chair to see them, what is the procedure on business questions, Mr. Speaker? Is one entitled to be called if one rises, or is one entitled to be called only if one is seen? After all, it is not easy to sit in a place where the Chair can obviously see one and it is important that one should be able to raise questions which have arisen out of business questions. I therefore ask whether my application to make a point for the Leader of the House can be received.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will understand that nobody has any right to ask any supplementary question. It is not a matter of right. It is within the discretion of the Chair whether any question is allowed. All I am concerned with, as we have spent nearly 30 minutes on business questions, is that later in the day I shall be suffering complaints from hon. Members who did not have an opportunity to speak in the defence debate.