HC Deb 18 March 1965 vol 708 cc1476-85
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, 22ND MARCH—Supply [13th Allotted Day]: Report which, subject to the agreement of the House, will be taken formally to allow a debate on the Report of the Milner Holland Committee (Command No. 2605) on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Law Commissions Bill.

TUESDAY, 23RDMARCH—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, which, if the House agrees, it is proposed to take formally.

Debate on Immigration, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Lords Amendments to the Superannuation (Amendment) Bill.

Motion on the Civil Defence Regulations.

WEDNESDAY, 24TH MARCH—A debate on the privilege question Motion relating to the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey).

I understand that the Chairman of Ways and Means proposes to put down the Covent Garden Market Bill for consideration at seven o'clock.

Motion on the Agriculture Order.

THURSDAY, 25TH MARCH—Committee and remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

There will be a debate on Higher Education, which it is thought may last for half a day, followed by subjects which hon. Members may wish to raise.

FRIDAY, 26TH MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY, 29TH MARCH—The proposed business will be: Second Reading of the Monopolies and Mergers Bill.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

First, will the Leader of the House say when he intends to provide time for a foreign affairs debate, with special reference to the situation in Vietnam? Secondly, is he aware that, in view of the dismay with which the Agricultural Price Review has been received in the country, we shall ask for an early opportunity to debate the matter?

Mr. Bowden

I have already said that we could, perhaps, have a foreign affairs debate before we rise for the Easter Recess. But I think that we had better await the conclusion of the discussions which are now taking place and the return of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary from Washington.

As regards the Agricultural Price Review, we shall endeavour to make a Supply day available, if the right hon. Gentleman wishes.

Mr. Grimond

Has the Leader of the House seen the two Motions, Nos. 153 and 154, relating to the Highland Development (Scotland) Bill which stand in the names of my hon. Friends and myself?

[That this House regrets that only one Liberal Member was called on the Second Reading of the Highland Development (Scotland) Bill, a Bill which affects only six constituencies, of which four are represented by Liberals.]

[That this House deplores that only one Liberal has been chosen to serve on the Committee which will consider the Highland Development (Scotland) Bill.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I put these Motions on the Order Paper with great reluctance, because I am well aware of the difficulties which arise in the handling of membership of Standing Committees and the selection of speakers in the House, but it seems to be the only way by which we can draw attention to what is, surely, a gross injustice? The Bill affects only six constituencies, four of which are held by Liberals, but we shall have only one member on the committee.

I should have thought that it would be permissible under the Standing Order to appoint more, but what I do say is that the House owes its first obligation to the people and not to any of its own procedures or party arrangements. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Speech."] Yes, and it is an important matter.

Mr. Emery

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I heard the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) say quite definitely that he was making a speech.

Mr. Lubbock

And a very good one, too.

Mr. Emery

Is that in order at this time in the House?

Mr. Speaker

What is in order on questions supplementary to the business question is to urge, no doubt not to excess, the importance of the matter which the particular right hon. or hon. Member wishes to have discussed. But, fair to say, we were, perhaps, wandering a little far from that.

Mr. Grimond

I am grateful to you for that, Mr. Speaker, and, if I may say so, I am grateful to you also for the trouble you have taken over these matters throughout, but may I ask the Leader of the House whether he can make a further effort to see either that another Liberal is put on the Standing Committee or that the Bill is referred to the whole Scottish Grand Committee or a Committee of the whole House?

Mr. Bowden

I have noted the three early day Motions Nos. 152, 153 and 154 in the names of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, and I was glad to hear him say that he put them down with reluctance, because I should doubt whether there is very much sympathy in the House for Motions of this sort.

Nevertheless, on the third one, relating to the action of the Committee of Selection, the right hon. Gentleman may recall that, in the business exchanges last week, I promised to take the matter up with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. This is not an easy thing to do. I should not wish to be thought, as Leader of the House, to be interfering in any way with the Committee of Selection. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the whole House will appreciate that the Committee of Selection must take Standing Order No. 61 into consideration when appointing Committees.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend impress on the Select Committee on Procedure the urgency of examining the problem of Questions in the House in view of Mr. Speaker's Ruling yesterday? Secondly, can he provide time for a debate on the findings of public opinion polls, in view of the recent expression of opinion in the Daily Telegraph?

Mr. Bowden

On two or three occasions recently, once in reply to a question from the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Sir W. Bromley-Davenport), I have dealt with this matter of Questions in the House. I have said quite frankly that I am disturbed about it. I have drawn the exchanges in the House to the attention of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure. He needs no new terms of reference, and I am sure that the Committee will consider this point.

I think that, if the second matter to which my hon. Friend referred is raised at all, it ought, perhaps, to be in private Members' time.

Sir H. Butcher

With reference to Wednesday's business, will the Leader of the House say what is likely to happen in the event of the matter of privilege not being concluded by seven o'clock and a Motion being put down by the Chairman of Ways and Means? Can the Leader of the House make provision for the matter to be taken to a conclusion?

Mr. Bowden

We are always in this difficulty when the Chairman of Ways and Means intervenes at seven o'clock on any day. If the Covent Garden Market Bill does not take the whole of the three hours, we can return to the earlier Motion on privilege.

Mr. Peyton

As the Prime Minister has today expressed his expectation that the Steel Bill will be passed during the present Session, will the Leader of the House be good enough to say in what year he expects the present Session to end?

Mr. Bowden

Not without notice.

Mr. Strauss

Can my right hon. Friend say what are the prospects for a debate on the White Paper on the Arts?

Mr. Bowden

I cannot promise anything before Easter. If right hon. and hon. Members look at the programme between now and Easter, they will see that almost the whole is taken up by financial business.

Sir D. Renton

It would seem that the Law Commissions Bill, Report stage and Third Reading, will not be started until a late hour on Monday. Would the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this? Presumably, the Government consider it to be quite an important Bill. We have a good many Amendments that we wish to put down and it does not seem very suitable that, on this Government Bill, we should start the remaining stages so late at night.

Mr. Bowden

I am prepared to look at this. I think that we had better discuss it through the usual channels.

Mr. Woodburn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there does seem to be a feeling of injustice in Scotland that the Liberal Party, which represents so many Highland constituencies, should not have a fuller opportunity of taking part in the Standing Committee on the Highland Development (Scotland) Bill? Could we have an assurance that the Liberals will not be unduly restricted when the Bill returns to the House on Report, and that they will have full opportunity to make any contributions that they desire to make then?

Mr. Bowden

The House will adopt its normal procedure when the Bill comes back to the Floor of the House. It is not for me to decide who is selected to speak and who is not.

Mr. George Y. Mackie

With reference to the Motion concerning representation on the Standing Committee, the Leader of the House mentioned Standing Order No. 61, which says—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Standing Order No. 61 says: In nominating members the Committee of Selection shall have regard to their qualifications and the composition of the House"? Surely there can be no better qualification than that of being elected by the people of Scotland?

Mr. Bowden

I think that we really must leave this to the Committee of Selection. I would not wish to interfere in any way.

Mr. H. Hynd

My right hon. Friend said that on Thursday there might be opportunity for hon. Members to raise other subjects on the Consolidated Fund Bill. Would it be in order for me to raise the question of the plight of railway superannuitants?

Mr. Bowden

Yes, Sir, if my hon. Friend should catch Mr. Speaker's eye.

Mr. John Wells

As it is a long time since horticulture was debated, and as the Covent Garden Market Bill might not run for more than an hour or so on Wednesday evening, would the right hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of a short debate on horticulture next Wednesday or, failing that, including horticulture in any debate that may be held on the Annual Price Review, although this is normally not done?

Mr. Bowden

If the Covent Garden Market Bill does not run the full three hours next Wednesday, it may be desired to the return to the privilege Motion. If not, it might be possible, by arrangement with the Chair, to have an early Adjournment. But other than an early Adjournment, or a private Members' day, I see little hope of a debate on horticulture this side of Easter.

Mr. Dodds

Will my right hon. Friend give consideration to bringing in much-needed legislation for consumer protection? Is he aware that the urgent need for this will be underlined in the next few hours when the information is made public that Mrs. Bowman-Shaw has fled these shores in a daylight flit, leaving behind tens of thousands of members who have lost their money, many creditors and also unpaid Income Tax, as well as a bewildered "stooge" who is "holding the baby"?

Mr. Bowden

I think that the House will excuse me if I simply say that there is no immediate intention of introducing a Bill on consumer protection, although such a Measure is part of the Government's programme. I think that I had better leave the remainder of my hon. Friend's question at this stage until I have looked at the information which he obviously has in his possession.

Sir G. Nicholson

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the fact that yesterday one of his Ministerial colleagues wandered into the Division Lobby not knowing what he was doing? Was not this due to loss of power? Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to see that the Government as a whole have some sense of direction?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that we can put up direction signs during business questions.

Mr. Mendelson

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it is urgently necessary to have the foreign affairs debate, with particular reference to the dangerous situation in Vietnam, at the earliest possible moment, preferably before my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary goes to Washington? Is it not equally clear that the situation in Asia is having a very bad effect upon all sorts of important international negotiations which are being retarded and made more difficult? Should not the House have an early opportunity to express an opinion upon the situation?

Mr. Bowden

I appreciate the urgency, but I think that we would be well advised to wait until my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is back from Washington. He is going there on Sunday.

Sir Rolf Dudley Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that great numbers of hon. Members on this side would like to see the Highland Development Bill discussed on the Floor of the House? If the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) does not know how to get it here I will, if he sees me afterwards, give him a tip on how to do it.

Mr. Bowden

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will excuse me when I say that I had not appreciated that Exeter had moved to the Highlands.

Mr. Heffer

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the Motion, standing in my name and in the names of other hon. Members, relating to the conduct of the Leader of the Opposition?

That this House deplores the conduct of the Leader of the Opposition in describing in a speech on 6th March those hon. Members who signed the Motion calling for an end to American bombings in North Vietnam as a craven core of the Parliamentary Labour Party; and calls for an early debate to discuss this unwarrantable slight on loyalty and integrity of hon. Members concerned.]

Will my right hon. Friend enable us to discuss this rather important matter, which arises from what we consider to be a slur on hon. Members on this side of the House?

Mr. Bowden

No, Sir. I cannot find time. It is obviously a matter for a Private Member's Motion.

Mr. Jennings

Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to give time—even half a day—for a debate on the present position of the public service pensioners?

Mr. Bowden

No, Sir, not this side of the Easter Recess.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

May I revert to the representations made to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) about Liberal representation on the Standing Committee considering the Highland Development Bill? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a great deal of sympathy among Scottish hon. Members for the Liberals on this matter? Will he have a word, through the usual channels, with representatives of the Conservative Party to try to get them to exercise a little restraint? Is he aware that, during the Second Reading debate the other day, no fewer than three Front Bench speakers from the Tory Party were called up by them? Was this not wholly unreasonable?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot allow, as a supplementary to a business question, any criticism of who is selected to speak. The selection of speakers in a debate is a painful responsibility that I have to bear. No one would want to share it.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

I thought that I had phrased my remarks in the most courteous way possible, Mr. Speaker, and without reference to the Chair. I have not criticised you at any time and would not presume to do so. I was addressing my question to the Leader of the House.

I suggested that, in the course of his consultations with the Conservative Party, through the usual channels, he might make representations—such things are normally done during such negotiations—to right hon. Members opposite to restrain themselves from putting up, on the basis of the priority which they can assert as Front Benchers, three speakers of this kind in a debate.

I am not blaming you, Sir, for calling the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen involved who spoke for the Tory Party in that debate, because I am aware that when a Front Bench speaker gets up it is recognised that he—like Privy Councillors, who do not display themselves so often, and ex-junior Ministers —receives priority.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot get on with business questions if hon. Members will make Second Reading, Third Reading and almost Fourth Reading speeches instead.

Mr. Warbey

The Leader of the House will recall, in connection with the privilege Motion, that he originally said that he would allow a short time for this debate, but that some right hon. Gentlemen opposite objected that the terms of the Motion were such that a long debate might be required, and that, in deference to the views then expressed, the form of the Motion was changed so as to make clear that the purpose of the Motion was simply to discuss the reference of the matter to the Committee of Privileges, so that there need not be a long debate.

As it has now been indicated by hon. Gentlemen opposite that they still seek a long debate on this matter, will my right hon. Friend say how the House will be able to proceed to reach a conclusion on this matter in the event of the Covent Garden Market Bill occupying the full time until ten o'clock?

Mr. Bowden

I have already said that the House is always in this difficulty when the Chairman of Ways and Means intervenes on a particular day, as he has a right to do. It will be a matter for the House to decide. It is a matter for the House and not for parties, for the Government or the Opposition. There will be no Whips on and, if there is a Division at all, it will be a free vote. Therefore, the House will have to decide whether it wishes to come to a conclusion at seven o'clock, or to take the risk of returning to it with a view to coming to a conclusion at ten o'clock.

Mr. Bessell

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) about the Highland Development Bill, as it is now quite obvious that there is a great deal of sympathy on both sides of the House for the view taken by the Liberal Party?

Mr. Bowden

I am not unsympathetic myself, as I indicated last week when I said that I would speak to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection about it. But he himself is in difficulty and I do not think that the House can instruct the Chairman of the Committee what to do in this matter.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Will my right hon. Friend say whether it is the Government's intention to find time for a debate on the interesting, if possibly controversial, White Paper on the Arts, at any rate after Easter, if not before?

Mr. Bowden

I have said earlier that we should have a short debate at some point on the White Paper on the Arts.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I appeal to the House. We have spent rather a lot of time on business questions and the time has come when we ought to bring them to an end and get on to the business of the day.