HC Deb 18 December 1967 vol 756 cc993-9
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, in view of the discussion tomorrow on the export of arms, I wish to make a Statement on the rearrangement of business.

Tomorrow, following a debate arising under Standing Order No. 9, we propose to deal with a Motion setting out the arrangements for the Christmas Adjournment.

In consequence, the business on Wednesday, 20th December, will be the Second Reading of the Transport Bill, when the rule will be suspended for one hour.

The 6th Supply day previously arranged for Wednesday, 20th December will be deferred until Wednesday, 17th January.

It will be proposed that on Thursday, 2Ist December, the House should meet at 11 a.m., take Questions until 12 noon and adjourn at 5 p.m., until Wednesday, 17th January, 1968.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman may move the Adjournment of the House so that we may discuss what he has said.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Crossman.]

Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)

I thank the Leader of the House for making that Statement about business.

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that the Opposition were promised a Supply day, which we allotted to a debate on the Middle East. We constantly asked for that and were promised it for before the House rose for the Christmas Recess. Under the new arrangement of business we are denied a Supply day and a debate on the Middle East. The Leader of the House must realise that this is unsatisfactory to us. The alternatives are to set aside an extra day before Christmas so that may we continue to have our debate on foreign affairs, which is what we should like to do, or the Leader of the House could postpone the Second Reading of the Transport Bill, which would not only give us our debate but be for the good of the country.

As the right hon. Gentleman will probably not wish to do that, can we sit an extra day before Christmas to debate the very important events in the Middle East, which have not been debated in the House since Aden took its independence?

Mr. Crossman

I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for what he has said. He has very fairly put before the House the alternatives resulting from the unexpected debate tomorrow. We all agree that we should not have a three-hour debate interrupting the Second Reading of the Transport Bill. That is why we must have a change.

The two alternatives were either to sit for an extra day before Christmas, until 5, or to come back two or three days earlier, and, as I have suggested, to have a two-day foreign affairs debate on 17th and 18th January and then to have Friday, making three days of extra parliamentary time in January, rather than having an extra day before Christmas.

I very much want to do what the House wants. I examined the question very carefully. My impression was that an extra day before Christmas, when everybody had made their plans already for going away on Thursday, could not only be to our disadvantage, but even more to the disadvantage of the staff of the House, for whom I know the Opposition are very solicitous. I therefore thought it better, on balance, to keep things as they were before Christmas and to come back in the week before we were to have come back and to have our two days' foreign affairs debate in January.

Mr. Heath

I must place on record that we consider this entirely unsatisfactory. We have waited for the debate on the Middle East for so long and now we shall have to wait for it for another month. The right hon. Gentleman should take the Opposition's views more into account, because it is a Supply day for which the Opposition settle the business.

Mr. Crossman rose

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will wait a moment or two. He must have the leave of the House every time he speaks now.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Is it not the Opposition's fault that the business of the House has been disorganised so much?

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

In view of the Prime Minister's Statement today, would the Leader of the House postpone the Second Reading of the Transport Bill on Wednesday?, Is he aware that the Prime Minister said that we shall have a ruthless pruning of Government spending? How can he justify a Second Reading debate on a Bill which will involve spending £9,100 million on loans, write-offs and debts? How can he possibly justify it when we are cutting down the building of houses and schools?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The debate on the Transport Bill is not tonight.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

Can the Leader of the House explain how a three-hour debate tomorrow necessitates four extra days of Government business in January?

Mr. Hngh Jenkins (Putney)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that one day of the two-day foreign affairs debate which will take place when we resume will be devoted to Vietnam? I take it that that is the intention. Does he agree that it does not lie in the mouths of hon. Mem- bers opposite, who stood up earlier today when Mr. Speaker asked if hon. Members had leave of the House, to have a special debate to complain of the consequences of their actions?

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

While we on this side of the House are very mindful of the staff of the House, we are a Parliament and we must react to events as they are. Would the Leader of the House reconsider having the debate on the Middle East on the Thursday, because the Situation there is very serious and could be further developing in that way between now and January?

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

On a point of Order. I think that I heard my right hon. Friend say that we were to debate the Motion for the Christmas Adjournment tomorrow. That would mean that back bench Members would not be able to table Amendments. Would you, Mr. Speaker, be prepared to accept manuscript Amendments, because some of us feel very strongly about the length of not only the Christmas Recess, but other recesses.

Mr. Speaker

I shall deal with that point of Order when it comes tomorrow.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor). Surely it would be much more reasonable, in view of the Prime Minister's Statement, if the Second Reading of the Transport Bill is to be proceeded with, to take it at the end of January, as the Bill provides for £450 million extra loans to nationalised industries and £150 million of extra Government grants. If it were in January, perhaps by that time the Government could have amended the whole Bill and we could have two days debate instead of one?

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

I always was rather doubtful about the arrangement to have such a long Christmas Recess. I should have thought that the country generally would be behind taking a week off it. Therefore, we are left with the question whether to have the debate on the Transport Bill before Christmas. One thing that I see in favour of that—and I speak purely on parliamentary business and shall not discuss the merits—is that with such a long and voluminous Bill we need to get it off:he ground as soon as we can. I feel sure that if the Leader of the Opposition were in the position of my right hon. Friend's position he would take the same view as my right hon. Friend does today.

It is a good idea that we should come back a week earlier. It will allow two days for a foreign affairs debate, which is very much overdue, and it will allow the Opposition, who will not be disadvantaged by the passage of an extra week or two, to discuss the matter, on which I feel a great deal of sympathy for them. Generally speaking, the country would think that we are addressing ourselves to i he problem as vigilantly as we should.

Mr. F. P. Crowder (Ruislip-North-wood)

I should like to know why, at the moment, the Leader of the House should try to change the business at short notice without giving reason. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] He has given no reason whatsoever. Such reasons as he has put forward are short in the extreme and inadequate. The fact is that nobody is the least interested in a Second Reading of the Transport Bill. People are much more interested in the split in the Cabinet, which, I suppose, is the reason for these wet hen tactics. Why are we faced with this Situation? I do not see why the Leader of the House should be able to change the business at short notice without giving ample reasons.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that we can get on with the day's business.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

Has not a new Situation arisen in that it is only three and a half hours since the Prime Minister stated that there was to be a fundamental review of Government expenditure and that nothing would be sacrosanct? Now, the Leader of the House says that the Transport Bill is to go on as before. It appears that the Bill is sacrosanct and that this is already a break in the Statement. In view of the Situation, and since what the Prime Minister said is shown to be completely false, should we not have further time tomorrow to consider what he said and the new Situation which has arisen?

Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)

If the House is to come back a week earlier, would it not be more sensible to postpone the Transport Bill until after Christmas, when Parliamentary time will be easier and we could do the proper thing by this enormous Measure, giving two days to the Second Reading?

Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

Will my right hon. Friend resist every pressure from the benches opposite to delay the Second Reading of the Transport Bill? I assure him that, un-like hon. Members opposite, thousands of old-age pensioners who will benefit from its travel concessions are desperately anxious to see the passage of the Bill.

Mr. Crossman

By leave of the House, perhaps I may now reply. Two points have arisen. The first is that, if we are to come back earlier after the Recess, we should postpone the Transport Bill instead of the foreign affairs debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) made the proper answer to that. I appreciate the desire of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) to get the Bill into Committee as quickly as possible, because he has a mass of hard work to do on it there. If we get the Second Reading before Christmas, we shall have an extra week in Committee, which will give him more opportunity to put constructive points. That emphasises the reason for having the Second Reading before Christmas.

I appreciate the disappointment of the Opposition in having the debate on the Middle East postponed until (7th January. The debate on 18th January will also be on foreign affairs, but particularly the Far East, so that we shall have one day on the Middle East and one day on the Far East and we hope to keep them as separate as we can. On Friday, 19th January, we might debate the Report of the Committee of Privileges. We should have time to debate it then. Those are three good. solid Parliamentary occasions.

Secondly, complaint has been made about our returning earlier after the Recess. I must say that I am disappointed by the inconsistency shown. An early day Motion has been put down by Conservative back-benchers, among them the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor). I am glad that the agreement now is that we should not stay a day longer this week, but should, instead, have the alternative of returning earlier after Christmas. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not do both?"] That proposition has not been put to me, but I am prepared to consider all propositions.

If it is now suggested by hon. Members opposite that they want both to come here on Friday and still have three extra days after the Recess, I will consider that, but I feel that, on reflection, they will not like that as much as my proposal. The hon. Member for Cathcart and some of his hon. Friends have been urging us to come back earlier after Christmas and I have acceded to their request. The choice was between sitting a day longer this week and getting the debate on the Middle East before Christmas and Coming back earlier in January. On reflection, I think that hon. Members will agree that it is the best Solution to come back earlier.

I have been asked why I have made this Statement. I have done so because of the debate arranged for tomorrow, which was supported unanimously by the Opposition. I thought hon. Members were entitled to the courtesy of knowing that we have now rearranged the business because of the three-hour debate tomorrow—the result of the Opposition's initiative, which I do not grudge. I have tried to make the best rearrangement I could and I hope that the House will agree.

Mr. Joseph Harper (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.