HC Deb 08 April 1968 vol 762 cc957-63

The following Motion stood upon the Order Paper: That this House takes note of the Eleventh Report from the Estimates Committee in the last Session of Parliament and of the Fifth Special Report from the Estimates Committee elating to Prisons, Borstals and Detention Centres.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the first speaker in the debate, may I remind the House that the forthcoming debate has been truncated. Reasonably brief speeches will help in what is a very important debate.

6.42 p.m.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

In view of what you have aid, Mr. Speaker—that debate has been truncated—as Chairman of the Sub-Committee which prepared the Report I am not prepared on this occasion to move the Motion for the House to take note of it.

I do this because it is clearly not fair to the members of my Sub-Committee, who spent a great deal of time on the preparation of the Report, and on the witnesses who came before us, to attempt to despatch the Report in just over three hours. When the business of the House was announced last week by the then Leader of the House, no mention was made of the fact that we would today be taking the Motion for the Easter Adjournment—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady must be careful or she will find herself peaking to the Motion.

Mrs. Short

I hope that I have made the point, Mr. Speaker.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

On a point of order. As I understand it, Mr. Speaker, today was an Opposition Supply Day and it was decided by common consent, on both sides, that the important subject of prisons, borstals and detention centres should be put down for debate. It cannot be debated—I understand that the reason is purely technical—unless a member of the Estimates Committee moves that it be debated. The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), who was Chairman of the Sub-Committee of the Estimates Committee, has declined to move it.

Is there no other way, Mr. Speaker, in which the rights of the Opposition can be protected so that they do not appear to lose their Supply Day? If there is no other way, perhaps the new Leader of the House—whose appointment I greatly welcome—can indicate when the Government will allow this matter to be debated in Government time, because it is of the greatest importance and of great interest on both sides of the House.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

Further to the point of order. May I, Mr. Speaker, as an hon. Member who is also a member of the Sub-Committee, say that the hon. Lady is perfectly right in not moving the Motion. This is the third time in three weeks that the business of the House has been changed from what was announced on the previous Thursday. First, we were to have a Vote on Account. Then, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) objected about the business being changed. Today, I came here at half-past three to debate the important Motion from the Estimates Committee and, once again, the business has been changed, without any notice of the change being given by the Leader of the House.

Last week, as the then Leader of the House on Thursday was inviting so many hon. Members to raise points in the debate on the Motion for the Easter Adjournment, I asked him when he proposed to move his Motion for the Recess. He replied that he did not know. I suggested to him that Tuesday or Wednesday would obviously be the proper day to do so. He gave no indication when he would move his Motion.

It is quite wrong, and against the Estimates Committee and the rights of back-benchers, that the business of the House should be interfered with for the third time in three weeks.

Mr. E. Rowlands (Cardiff, North)

Further to the point of order. I wish, Mr. Speaker, to endorse what has just been said and also, as a member of the Sub-Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), to support the view which she has expressed concerning the way that the debate has been truncated. We spent 12 months preparing our Report, we waited six months for the debate and we now find that it has turned out to be no more than half a day. I therefore support what has been said from both sides in opposing any debate on the subject today.

Mr. Reginald Maudling (Barnet)

Further to the point of order. I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether we may have assistance from the new Leader of the House on this matter. The House seems to have been put in a very difficult position. If hon. Members who expected to debate this important matter are, apparently, to be disappointed, what happens to our Supply Day as such I do not know. We need an explanation immediately from the Leader of the House. Can he think of a way to extricate the House from the unfortunate situation in which it has been placed by the Government putting down the Easter Adjournment Motion for today?

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

I understand that hon. Members are in difficulties in this matter. This arrangement had been made. Many hon. Members have spoken earlier today on the Motion for the Easter Adjournment, as is the traditional way for hon. Members rightly to raise their different points of view. It would have been for any hon. Member who was a member of the Estimates Committee to have moved the Motion. However, that has not been done and the next Order has been called.

I will look at the possibility of having Government time. I cannot promise a whole day, but I will do my best to get some time so that we can have the debate. We cannot, however, do it now. It is too late.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

One can understand the indignation of members of the Estimates Committee, but, on the other hand, we have had the earlier debate on the Easter Adjournment. I remember few occasions on which that debate has been so drearily and almost procrastinatingly, if that is the right word, dragged on. It must have been within the knowledge of the House that that important debate was coming up. All sorts of hon. Members have raised ad nauseam matters concerning Rhodesia and all sorts of things.

It is not an occasion even for the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) to complain about the rights of the Opposition. If the House—not merely the Opposition—cares to inflate all sorts of speeches in debate without any consideration for the Estimates Committee, the only result is that the House gets into this position. The House can carry on only by the good will and common sense generally of hon. Members. The Estimates Committee has called attention to an abuse.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

On a point of order. May I make clear for the record, Mr. Speaker, that as Chairman of the full Estimates Committee I have contacted as many members both of the Sub-Committee and of the full Committee as I could in the time at my disposal, and they unanimously agreed that we should take this course of action as a protest against the Government action in putting down the debate on the Easter Recess on the same day as the important debate on prisons, borstals and detention centres.

The Government must have known full well that the debate for the Easter Adjournment would take two or three hours, as it normally does, and that it would automatically cut into the time at the disposal of the Estimates Committee. This is a scandalous way of treating an important Sub-Committee of the Estimates Committee.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

Further to the point of order. If the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) will take the trouble to consult the list at the entrance to the Chamber he will see that his hon. Friends spoke for far longer than hon. Members on this side of the House. Furthermore, he was not sitting all through the debate, as I was, hoping to be called.

Mr. Speaker

How long hon. Members on each side have spoken for is not a point of order.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

Further to the points of order that have been raised. Natural disappointment has been occasioned by the collapse of this debate and very few hon. Members will have been mollified by what the Leader of the House has said. When hon. Members have been told that this question has to be discussed in conjunction with another report that has since come out, it seems, to say the least, churlish that the Leader of the House could so parsimoniously suggest that the House can be satisfied by having at a future date something less than a day. I think that my right hon. Friend could give more careful consideration to this demand than has been given to it.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

Further to the point of order. Before the Leader of the House responds, may I ask whether he can give a firm assurance about what will happen next. I endorse what the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) has decided to do. It would do her report on the subject less than justice to cram a debate on it into three or four hours. I hope that it is appreciated in the prison service. A second report has now been added. It is a report which justifies a full day's work in the Chamber. I hope that we will be assured of that.

Mr. Peart

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) will not accuse me of being churlish. I was not responsible for the long debate on the Adjournment Motion. On my first appearance as Leader of the House I had to accept the arrangements that had been made. I am merely trying to help my hon. Friends, my present responsibility having started today. I have had a word with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and, if it is possible, he could make a statement, if he wishes to do so, which affects the point raised on Durham Prison by my hon. Friend and others. He could make it at ten o'clock, or after. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] Or before that. If we do not spend a great deal of time on the Education Bill, my right hon. Friend can make his statement almost immediately.

Mr. Maudling

Further to that point of order. I do not think that is a satisfactory suggestion, although I am sure the Leader of the House is trying to be helpful. The House had been expecting a full day's debate on this subject before the Adjournment Motion was put down. The House, I am sure, still expects a full day's debate for which the Government must find time.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

I have followed, with respect, what the right hon. Gentleman was saying but, if the Leader of the House will permit me to say so, I had in mind that we might have two half-days. We may need a full day.

Mrs. Renée Short

My right hon. Friend does not do that to other Committees.

Mr. Callaghan

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to put my point. I did not know until 30 seconds ago that the Motion was not going to be moved, and I have taken time to prepare a statement. What I suggest to the Committee, who are now filled with outraged dignity, is that perhaps it could meet their convenience if we had two half-days, from now until 10 o'clock, and then resuming with the Question put back again on a second day. That might mean that some speeches would not be made until the second half-day, but it would meet the possibility of having a full day's debate. I do not know whether that would meet my hon. Friends. I must say to the House, with respect, Mr. Speaker, that there is a statement I wish to make. If I cannot make it, I cannot make it, because the House is master of us all. It would meet the convenience of a great many if we divided the debate into two in this way and had two half-days on it.

Mr. Speaker

We have been a long time on points of order. May I rule on the points of order as far as Mr. Speaker is concerned. We are on a Supply Day. The Supply Day has been given by the Opposition to the Estimates Committee. If no member of the Estimates Committee whose name appears on the Order Paper moves it, then there can be no debate. It is as simple as that.

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