HC Deb 13 July 1970 vol 803 cc1152-4
Mr. Speaker

I have a short but, I think, helpful statement to make in relation to what I said on Thursday on the subject of the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill next Monday.

In most years, the July Appropriation Bill embraces the whole field of Government expenditure, and so on its Second Reading it is in order to refer to any matter covered by that expenditure. This year, however, the main Appropriation Bill was passed into law before the Dissolution of the last Parliament. The Bill now before the House includes only certain Supplementary Estimates for the current year; namely, those set out in House of Commons Papers Nos. 13 and 14. These Estimates are somewhat narrow in scope. In this case, therefore, in conformity with the longstanding practice of the House, it will be in order on Second Reading to refer only to expenditure covered by the Supplementary Estimates embodied in the Bill.

Before I hold a Ballot, which I have announced, it will be necessary for me to scrutinise the topics, notice of which hon. Members will have handed in, to see whether they are in order, and I shall put into the Ballot only those topics to which I am satisfied it would be in order to refer on this occasion.

Mr. Harold Wilson

We understand, Mr. Speaker, why you must rule as you have ruled on the question of the Consolidated Fund Bill; namely, that it is restricted in scope. I wonder, however, whether, before you finally decide on the lines you have stated, it will be possible for the Leader of the House to see whether, in order that the House can have a series of wide-ranging debates for all back benchers, it might be possible—I do not know that it is—to submit a Motion that the Second Reading should be taken formally and that the House might then go on to the Adjournment so as to widen the scope of the debate? Can there be talks through the usual channels in order to see whether that would be possible before you decide which subjects from those put forward can be admitted to the Ballot?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I can respond to the right hon. Gentleman by saying that there may be some procedural difficulties of which I am not particularly aware at the moment involved in the course he proposes. But I will certainly look at the whole problem and will be very pleased to see whether there is any way in which we can meet the point he has put forward.

Mr. John Mendelson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since the General Election we have sat for such a short time and we are in doubt at this moment, in view of what the Leader of the House has said about the difficulties which might arise on choice of subject. May I, therefore, seek your help and guidance? Is there any way in which we can ask the Government, the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House, whether there is a firm commitment by the Foreign Secretary to make an early statement on the sale of arms to South Africa, so that Parliament may be informed at the earliest moment? I ask because reputable organs of the Press are this morning reporting that the decision has been made, yet the House was led to believe last week that consultations with Commonwealth Governments were taking place and that no decision would be made until the matter had been mentioned in the House of Commons as a responsible Government statement. Is there any way in which the rights of the House of Commons may be protected?

Mr. Speaker

The Government have listened to the hon. Gentleman's words. It is not a matter for Mr. Speaker.